Arkansas Rice Growers Look To Summit With Cuba, Say Sen. Cotton Taking Second Look

Apr 7, 2015

The Cuban flag.
Credit Jorge Royan / Wikimedia Commons

Some Arkansas rice growers are looking favorably on President Obama’s plans at the end of this week to interact – in a limited fashion - with Cuba’s leader Raul Castro during the Summit of the Americas in Panama.

The director of the Arkansas Rice Growers Association, Greg Yielding, said Arkansas farmers are losing out on sales with Cuba to countries such as Brazil and Uruguay.

“Definitely if we could get some of that 500,000 metric ton market, if we could get a third of that it would definitely help. Arkansas grows half the rice in the country so the economic value of opening this up is bigger to Arkansas than it is to any other state in the country,” said Yielding.

Yielding, who traveled to Cuba last month, contended sagging commodity prices could also be alleviated by expanded trade with the island nation.

In December, the President announced intentions to loosen restrictions, of which many require Congressional approval, after 50 years of embargo to bring some normalization of relations between the U.S. and communist Cuba. Yielding said after visits with Arkansas’s Congressional delegation and staff in late February he’s feeling positive some actions will be taken.

“We did find wide support for the lifting of trade. In fact, even Senator Cotton said he was taking another look at the agriculture trade. He knew that agriculture was big in Arkansas, he knows that,” Yielding said. “He was taking a look at maybe opening up restrictions on agriculture trade. We felt kind of positive, more-so after we talked to him than we did going in.”

Senator Tom Cotton and fellow Republican Representative Steve Womack have previously indicated opposition toward the President’s movement toward opening barriers with Cuba. KUAR reached out to Senator Cotton’s office for this story and will have updates if provided. Republican Senator John Boozman has said he supports the lifting of some restrictions, as have Representatives Crawford, Hill, and Westerman.