Guest Opinions

Remove federal restrictions, let Idaho do more with Cuba

Then Rep. Butch Otter — now governor — and former Sen. Larry Craig, right, signed a trade agreement with an unidentified Idaho agricultural leader in Cuba in 2004. State officials hope some remaining trade restrictions can be removed so there can be more transactions between Idaho and Cuba.
Then Rep. Butch Otter — now governor — and former Sen. Larry Craig, right, signed a trade agreement with an unidentified Idaho agricultural leader in Cuba in 2004. State officials hope some remaining trade restrictions can be removed so there can be more transactions between Idaho and Cuba.

The Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA) began the first small but critical step toward the United States reestablishing meaningful ties with Cuba.

By allowing the first commercial sales of food and agricultural products, as well as medical supplies, in nearly half a century, Cuba has the potential to become an important market opportunity for American agricultural commodities because Cuba imports 80 percent of its food supply annually.

Our nation’s thriving food and agriculture sectors, coupled with Cuba’s need for an affordable and reliable food supply, provide expansive opportunities for the United States and Idaho. Increasing trade with Cuba will further strengthen our nation’s economy by opening a new market of 11 million potential customers.

Due to financing restrictions imposed by the embargo, U.S. companies are limited in their ability to serve and partner with the Cuban market. While U.S. food and agriculture companies can legally export to Cuba, even they have restrictions that prevent a truly sustainable trade relationship.

Further, a meaningful trade relationship cannot be limited to one sector or involve only one-way transactions. Without the same banking restrictions that we have, such countries as Canada, Brazil and members of the European Union are increasingly taking market share from U.S. industries.

Recently, the U.S. Treasury made positive steps in the direction of better trade relations, such as U-turn transactions, but more needs to be done to ensure a prosperous future between our countries.

In addition to trade, ending the embargo will open up bilateral travel opportunities for citizens of both nations, creating additional jobs in rural states like Idaho. Other business sectors stand to benefit, too. Most Cubans do not yet have access to modern telecommunications, but when they do, they will need the types of products that Idaho’s 4,800-plus technology companies can provide.

Along with Gov. Butch Otter, we understand that this opportunity is within reach. During his career, the governor has sponsored trade missions to Cuba with Idaho companies in the agriculture and medical fields.

During one memorable trip, he famously described the power of French fries in spreading our values to the Cuban people and the world. The governor, the Idaho Department of Commerce and Idaho State Department of Agriculture have joined dozens of fellow Idaho organizations and businesses in the Engage Cuba Idaho State Council that supports ending the Cuba trade and travel embargo for the benefit of Idaho’s economy.

We look forward to working with the Engage Cuba coalition on efforts to end the embargo and allow for Idaho products to be exported to Cuba.

Megan Ronk is director of Idaho Commerce and Celia Gould is director of Idaho State Department of Agriculture.

  Comments