Hutchinson Planning Cuba Trade Trip, First Governor To Visit Since Diplomatic Relations Shift

Sep 3, 2015

Credit Jorge Royan / Wikimedia Commons

Gov. Asa Hutchinson will be joining a group of Arkansas agricultural business interests on a trade trip to Cuba later this month.

The delegation is being led by the Rogers-based World Trade Center Arkansas and is expected to include representatives from Tyson Foods, Riceland Foods and other in-state agri-related businesses. The dates of the trip are Sept. 28-30.

“Governor Hutchinson is set to visit Cuba at the end of the month to promote Arkansas agriculture. We will have more details in the coming weeks,” governor’s spokesman J.R. Davis tells Talk Business & Politics.

“As they expand their market and their tourist opportunities, which is going to happen in the coming years, there’s going to be more demand for rice. Arkansas needs to be there at the table and to be No. 1 in exports to Cuba and other global markets,” Hutchinson said in a keynote address at the Arkansas Rice Expo in Stuttgart on August 7.

The Cuba trip would apparently make Hutchinson the first U.S. governor to visit the communist island nation since President Obama re-established embassy relations between Washington and Havana in August. The president announced he intended to loosen the restrictive 54-year old American policy towards Cuba in late 2014 – a move that was met favorably by many of the state’s agricultural interests.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe traveled to Cuba during his governorship in 2009 and publicly expressed his support for opening up more trade between the two countries. He said at the time that it could be a $200 million export market for Arkansas.

Arkansas agricultural representatives have expressed tremendous interest in restoring and expanding trade relations with Cuba since Obama first announced he intended to change the nation’s policy last year.

Arkansas rice and poultry entities, such as Riceland and Tyson, see a major upside for improving trade relations. The state is the No. 1 rice producing state and accounts for nearly 50% of the American rice crop. Arkansas is among the top three states in a variety of poultry production statistics.

The World Trade Center Arkansas, which is coordinating the trade delegation trip, is a non-governmental organization affiliated with the University of Arkansas, Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Hunt Ventures, U.S. Department of Commerce and other trade groups. Its mission is to facilitate and expand international trade for regional, statewide and global clients.