Diverse Council will Work to End Trade Restrictions and Travel Bans to Cuba
DENVER, CO – Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and Engage Cuba announced the launch of a statewide council that will work to open trade opportunities to Cuba and end the travel ban. The 38 member council is made up of a diverse group of Coloradans representing agriculture, banking, travel and tourism, high-tech, healthcare, education, energy, and others.
Currently, Cuba imports up to 80 percent of its food reaching almost $2 billion in agricultural imports in 2015. However, as a result of current restrictive policies, American producers are losing ground to competitor countries, dropping from the number one exporter to Cuba in 2000 to number five today. Significant opportunities exist for Colorado’s agriculture industry in Cuba, from exports of food products to items like fertilizer and farm equipment. Colorado exports like dairy, wheat, livestock feed, potatoes, and beef will be increasingly important for Cuba as tourism increases, tastes change, and trade becomes more efficient.
In order to help Colorado farmers and ranchers seize these opportunities Bennet is cosponsoring the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act. This bill repeals the current legal restrictions against doing business with Cuba, and allows businesses to export to Cuba without a government license and to work directly with Cuban purchasers.
“Whether it’s potatoes from the San Luis Valley, grass-fed beef from the Western Slope, milk and cheese from local dairies, or wheat from the eastern plains, Cuba will create excellent new opportunities for farmers and ranchers,” Bennet said. “Unfortunately, our agriculture industry – the state’s third largest – is missing out on these lucrative markets. We hope that the creation of this council will help build support for our bill and open doors for economic growth for Colorado producers.”
“Opening trade to Cuba has the potential to greatly increase exports not just for our dairy, but for farmers and ranchers across the state,” said Mary Kraft, owner of Kraft Family Dairy. “As travel and tourism increase to Cuba so will their demand for food and other products, creating opportunities for Colorado producers to tap into this market. We are hopeful that our participation on this council will push lawmakers to change current policies and lift trade restrictions.”
Demand for high quality American agricultural products is expected to continue to increase, driven not only by the increasing purchasing power of 11 million Cubans, but also by remittances and tourism which are expected to rise dramatically in the coming years. Cuban agricultural production, meanwhile, is stagnant. Unfortunately, American agriculture has continued to lose market share in Cuba to countries like the EU, Brazil, Argentina, and Vietnam due to current policies that make trade between the United States and Cuba less efficient or block it altogether. Despite Cuba being only 90 miles from Florida, the U.S. now ranks fifth in agricultural exports to Cuba.
Speakers at Tuesday’s launch event included Bennet, Don Shawcroft, President of the Farm Bureau, Hikmet Ersek, CEO of Western Union, Barry Biffle, CEO of Frontier Airlines, Karen Gerwitz, President of World Trade Center Denver, Luke Albee of Engage Cuba, and Cuban-American Community Leader Maria Garcia Berry. Colorado is the 12th state council launched across the U.S.