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LatAm in Focus: Can U.S. Agricultural Exports to Cuba Line Up with White House Policy?

Cuban and U.S. flags in a Cuban home

U.S. and Cuban flags hang in a Cuban home. (AP)

June 01, 2017

A US agricultural trade bill lifting limits on exports to Cuba could settle $3B-$8B in property claims.
"It's a bilateral trade deals, jobs, America first” —@RepRickCrawford on why his Cuba-trade bill fits Trump's model

U.S. Congressman Rick Crawford has taken on the role of arbiter when it comes to negotiating U.S. agricultural trade to Cuba. In January, the Republican legislator from Arkansas reintroduced a bill he first submitted to Congress in 2015 that allowed U.S. companies to let Cuba pay for exports with credit—the typical payment method for trade transactions worldwide. But Crawford has since amended the bill in hopes of widening the base of support on Capitol Hill, working with Cuban-American legislators such as Representative Mario Diaz-Balart.

The Cuban people have a need for products that we can provide and we can do it without empowering the regime.

The result is an updated bill that lifts credit restrictions, but also includes a 2 percent excise tax on exports that would go directly to compensating U.S. companies and citizens with extant property claims. There are currently about 6,000 U.S. certified claims that the Cuban government expropriated property after Fidel Castro took power. “For the first time in history, there’d be an actual revenue stream in place to address the aggrieved Cuban-Americans that have certified claims,” Crawford told AS/COA Online’s Elizabeth Gonzalez in a podcast interview. Crawford said the tax would liquefy some $3 billion to $8 billion in certified claims, which would then expire once cases were settled.

But while the bill is gaining support in Congress, and U.S. Agricultural Secretary Sonny Perdue publicly backed it in a May 17 House committee hearing, the White House’s Cuba-policy review looms. The Trump administration said it will conclude its review in June, and so far several government officials—from Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to the State Department’s Francisco Palmieri—have made it clear that there will be changes to the Obama-era rapprochement with the island. 

Still, Crawford thinks his bill is in line with the Trump administration’s priorities, because the legislation helps support the U.S. agricultural industry and the 17 million jobs associated with it, while potentially doubling trade with the island. “This fits very well in the Trump model: bilateral trade deals, and jobs, and America first.”

Should the bill pass, the Cubans would still have to cooperate on the 2 percent tax. Crawford thinks it won’t be a hard sell since the proximity and the quality of U.S. goods offers a better value for cash-strapped Cuba than exports from countries thousands of miles of way. “You can get a shipment that arrives in 36 days from Vietnam or you can get a shipment that arrives in 36 hours from the United States,” says Crawford.