Arkansas Agriculture Secretary Says Cuba Could Add $36 Million To State Exports

Fresh from returning from a Cuban trade mission with Gov. Asa Hutchinson, lawmakers, agricultural leaders, and other state business and political advisors, Arkansas Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward shared his thoughts on the trip.

While the Arkansas delegation didn’t find Cuba stocked with Fortune 500 business leaders, Ward said “it wasn’t abject poverty like some might assume.”

Ward, who appeared on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics with Roby Brock, said if current travel and trade restrictions as a result of the 55-year old Cuban embargo were lifted there would be key economic opportunities for Arkansas.

“There have been a couple of studies through the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture as well as the USDA on what the economic impact of agriculture (with Cuba) as a whole could be for the United States and also what that impact could be for Arkansas. So there is a little bit of trade going in, but with the tourism restrictions and the financing restrictions, it’s fairly limited,” Ward said.

He added that the state’s rice industry may stand to benefit the most from renewed relations with the communist Caribbean island.

“If those financing restrictions are lifted or eased some, that could be about a $36 million economic impact for Arkansas agriculture specifically, and about $29-$30 million of that could be for the Arkansas rice industry. They consume a lot of rice, they consume a lot of poultry. Those are two things Arkansas does pretty well,” he noted.

But like the governor said in a press conference on Friday, Ward warned that federal action from Congress must first occur to give Arkansas more of an opportunity.

Watch Ward’s full interview below.