The chance for normalized commercial relations with Cuba are expected to create opportunities for Arkansas farmers, an official with Riceland Foods told a U.S. Senate committee Tuesday.
Terry Harris, the senior vice president of marketing and risk management for the Stuttgart-based cooperative, told Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., and other members of the Senate Agriculture Committee during a hearing on opportunities and challenges for agriculture trade with Cuba.
Supporters of the idea have said that trade will open up the Caribbean nation to products and freedom, while opponents have stressed their opposition, citing the country’s human rights record and government control of the economy.
Harris told the committee that Cuba is a significant market for rice. The country imports $300 billion worth of rice annually, most of it from Vietnam.
“As the largest rice producer in the country, Arkansas is in a good position to benefit from exporting this commodity to Cuba,” Boozman said. “This is a great way to expand agriculture markets and to share our ideals with the Cuban people.”
The idea was echoed by Harris.
“The U.S. rice industry wholeheartedly supports the opportunity to move to normal commercial relations with Cuba,” Harris told lawmakers. “Prior to the U.S. embargo on Cuba more than 50 years ago, the island was the number one export destination for U.S. rice.”
Harris participated in the first sale of U.S. rice to Cuba since the embargo was imposed after Congress passed the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000; and was in Cuba when the first shipment of U.S. rice arrived.
“It was an incredible experience for me to see how excited they were with the quality of rice they had purchased for the people of Cuba. I saw what can happen when barriers are removed and people are allowed to meet and find common ground for cooperation and trade,” Harris said during his testimony.
“I’ve long supported efforts to end the embargo of U.S. agriculture exports to Cuba, relax the travel ban and loosen monetary restrictions. I intend to work with my colleagues to create changes to this outdated policy while pushing for human rights improvements and democratic change in Cuba,” Boozman said.
Boozman joined a bipartisan group of senators in Jan. 2015 to introduce the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015 which aims to legislatively address the administration’s proposal to loosen travel restrictions to Cuba and remove restrictions on banking transactions incidental to travel.