Changes in relations with Cuba could present a golden opportunity for Kansas wheat producers.
President Barack Obama recently announced a long-overdue plan to ease some economic restrictions as part of a move to normalize diplomatic relations with the island nation under a five-decade embargo.
Wheat is Cuba’s second largest import behind oil, so changes in trade policy would be significant for Kansas, the nation’s top wheat producing state.
Even though agricultural commodities were exempt in the embargo, Cuba has not purchased U.S. wheat since 2011 due to costly rules put in place on GOP President George W. Bush’s watch.
Following Obama’s recent announcement on Cuba, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, called for the U.S. Treasury Department to immediately rewrite those regulations as a way to encourage the sale of U.S. wheat and other farm commodities to Cuba.
Ideally, as Moran noted, the agency could address that issue before Congress tackles whether to lift the embargo.
Moran knows Kansas has much to offer in the type of hard red winter wheat Cuba prefers.
Wheat industry officials say Cuba could purchase some 500,000 metric tons from U.S. producers. A Texas A&M study from 2010 estimated $365 million in additional annual sales of agricultural commodities.
The benefit would extend to the U.S. economy in other sales and job creation.
Unfortunately, Kansas’ senior U.S senator failed to acknowledge the potential for his state. Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts dismissed Obama’s plan as a “public relations change.”
Hardly. Congress, which would have to approve moving past the embargo, should seize the opportunity to address a counterproductive policy that failed to force change in the Communist country, fueled anti-American sentiment there and punished U.S. producers and others with an interest in trade.
Moran acknowledged a challenge in the GOP-controlled Congress lifting the embargo. The obstructionist sentiment already expressed by Roberts would be proof.
Federal lawmakers interested in effective economic strategies need to embrace the potential in a better trade relationship with the island nation.
Even in Kansas, with a long and impressive history of shipping grain overseas, there’s always room to grow. Consider Cuba such an opportunity for the Sunflower State.