U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) participated in a Feb. 6 briefing panel for Capitol Hill staff that was focused on international food assistance programs and hosted by U.S. Representatives Tracey Mann (KS), Rick Crawford (AR), John Garamendi (CA) and Jimmy Panetta (CA).

USW Director of Trade Policy Peter Laudeman was a panel member along with representatives of rice and milling industry and the Seafarer’s Union (AFL-CIO). Rep. Mann moderated the discussion, while Rep. Crawford was on hand to remark on issues involving food programs.

The panel that discussed food assistance programs for Hill staffers on Feb. 7 were, left to right: Bobby Hanks, representing USA Rive; USW Director of Trade Policy Peter Laudeman; Adam Thomas, representing the North American MIllers' Association; and Brian Schoenman, Political and Legislative Director of Seafarers International Union of North America.

The panel that discussed food assistance programs for Capitol Hill staffers on Feb. 7 were (left to right): Bobby Hanks, representing USA Rive; USW Director of Trade Policy Peter Laudeman; Adam Thomas, representing the North American Millers’ Association; and Brian Schoenman, Political and Legislative Director of Seafarers International Union of North America.

A Team Effort

Joining Laudeman on the panel were Bobby Hanks, representing USA Rice; Adam Thomas, representing the North American Millers’ Association; and Brian Schoenman, Political and Legislative Director of Seafarers International Union of North America.

“The briefing covered a broad landscape but was particularly focused on the American Farmers Feed the World Act, which remains a strong opportunity to reinforce the role of U.S. commodities – most notably wheat – in international food assistance,” Laudeman said, noting that the legislation carries impact for both U.S. wheat producers and the entire wheat industry.

Part of Farm Bill Effort

The American Farmers Feed the World Act of 2023 would restore the emphasis on U.S.-grown commodities to fight global hunger, rather than using American taxpayers’ dollars to purchase food from America’s competitors. It would also restore transparency by reducing overhead costs, preserving resources to purchase life-saving food, and protecting at least 50% of the budget for purchasing U.S.-grown commodities and delivering them to the destination country.

“As both the House and Senate move closer to final Farm Bill text in each chamber, solidifying all additional support for the American Farmers Feed the World Act will be critical,” Laudeman added.

Wheat Plays Major Role

USW has joined the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and other agriculture commodity groups in backing the legislation since it was introduced in June 2023.

“America’s international food aid programs have enjoyed bipartisan support for more than 65 years because they are simple, effective, and they feed millions of vulnerable people around the world each year,” Mann said when introducing the Act in June 2023. “Through these programs, America fortifies our allies, counters the influence of foreign adversaries, creates new markets and trading partners, and stops wars before they start. For decades, America has purchased and donated American-grown commodities to execute our foreign assistance programs.”


U.S. wheat farmers have long played a major role in the fight against world hunger, which is why the U.S. Wheat Associates’ (USW) Trade Policy Team has been helping push for changes to the international food assistance programs under the 2023 Farm Bill. Among other things, proposed changes would reinstate the Food for Peace program’s original intent to allow U.S. farmers to share their harvest to fight global hunger. Changes would also halt the use of America taxpayer dollars to purchase food from competitors of U.S. agriculture. In the video below, USW Director of Trade Policy Peter Laudeman provides an overview of USW’s efforts . . .


Eight executives from top Japanese flour mills arrived in the U.S. this week, bringing with them an astute observation about the global wheat market: Supply and demand have had an odd relationship over the past three years.

Through it all, Toshiaki Yokoyama emphasized, “the relationship between U.S. wheat and Japan has not wavered.”

During a meeting between U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and the Japan Flour Millers Association (JFMA) on Monday, Yokoyama, JFMA Chair and Director of Nisshin Flour Milling Inc., expressed JFMA’s appreciation for the ability of U.S. farmers to produce a stable and consistent supply of high-quality wheat – even amid challenging times and conditions.

Members of the Japan Flour Millers Association pose for a photo with USW President Vince Peterson and USW Japan Country DIrector Rick Nakano following a meeting at USW headquarters.

Members of the Japan Flour Millers Association pose for a photo with USW President Vince Peterson (center) and USW Japan Country Director Rick Nakano (front row, far left) following a meeting at USW headquarters.

“Over the past three years, the spread of COVID-19 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have had a great impact on the relationship between wheat supply and demand, but the strong ties established over the years between Japan and the United States have remained solid,” Yokoyama said. “We are very happy to get back to the U.S. It is quite important to maintain and develop this good relationship under all circumstances, and we value continued cooperation by the U.S. wheat industry.”

JFMA, which also visited USDA and the Japanese Embassy during its time in Washington, D.C., was seeking updates on U.S. wheat production and exploring U.S. attitudes and opinions on biotechnology, including gene-edited wheat and drought-resistant wheat. International trade, disruption in the Black Sea region and the climate were other discussion topics.

It was JFMA’s first visit to the U.S. since 2019.

“These are our primary customers in Japan, which is regularly our second or third largest wheat market in the world, so we were very happy to have them here again and to be able to discuss things with them face to face,” said USW President Vince Peterson. “U.S. wheat has a long-term investment in Japan, and I believe they have a long-term investment in us, as well. It’s a great partnership and we are looking forward to continuing that partnership.”

Peterson and USW Vice President of Trade Policy Dalton Henry met with the JFMA team, which was led by Rick Nakano, USW Country Director in Japan. After its stop in D.C., the team moved on to Portland, Oregon, where it visited USW West Coast staff, state wheat associations in the Pacific Northwest, the Wheat Marketing Center and United Grain’s export facility.

See a brief video of JFMA’s visit to USW below.


During World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings in Geneva last week, USW’s Trade Policy team was able to dig deeper into programs in India and Turkey that have potential to affect global wheat trade and ultimately the bottom lines of U.S. farmers.

It was also able to touch base with U.S. wheat allies on trade issues with those countries.

USW Vice President of Trade Policy Dalton Henry and Director of Trade Policy Peter Laudeman had several consultations with delegations from other countries about the situation in India involving subsidies and wheat stocks.

India’s wheat and rice public stock holdings have been an ongoing concern, as the country’s subsidies programs have resulted in an oversupply of domestic wheat and rice. When India’s government releases those grain stocks into the export market, it often does so at prices below what it initially paid to purchase the wheat. Studies show the distortion of international wheat and rice trade from these policies cost U.S. wheat farmers anywhere from $500 million to $800 million per year in lost potential income.

“We had some very good conversations and although we did not receive all the answers we are looking for on India, it was encouraging to learn there is international support,” Laudeman said.

“We had support at home, too, from U.S.A. Rice, which was very helpful. It is also very important for U.S. agriculture when separate groups come together to work on issues.”

Turkey’s “flour dumping” was also a topic addressed during USW’s visit to Geneva. Turkey maintains substantial domestic support programs that encourage overproduction of flour, which the government then sells into overseas markets at less than global price levels. USW estimates the dumped flour hurts domestic milling industries around the world and subtracts anywhere from $100 million to $500 million from U.S. wheat export demand each year.

“We were previously able to submit a question to Turkey regarding the Turkish flour program through the U.S. delegation,” Laudeman explained. “Both Brazil and Australia joined us on that question, so at the WTO meeting we met with delegations from those countries and thanked them for their support. We also made it clear to other groups we met with that we would love to have more allies join us, if it makes sense for them to do so.”

Face-to-Face in Brussels

From Geneva, Henry and Laudeman traveled to Brussels for the annual meeting of the International Grain Trade Coalition (IGTC), an international organization that advocates for better trade policies and global food security.

“Many of the trade barriers that U.S. wheat producers face today aren’t tariffs, but stem from restrictions on technologies used in agriculture, which is where IGTC really shines,” Henry said. “It gives us the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with countries that would normally be our export competitors to make sure markets remain open. IGTC has working groups ranging from pesticide MRLs (maximum residue limits) to plant breeding innovations, all of which are critical to U.S. growers.”

USW's Dalton Henry and Peter Laudeman attended the annual meeting of the International Grain Trade Coalition (IGTC), an international organization that advocates for better trade policies and global food security.

USW’s Dalton Henry and Peter Laudeman attended the annual meeting of the International Grain Trade Coalition (IGTC), an international organization that advocates for better trade policies and global food security. The meeting, held in Brussels, was the first in-person annual meeting in a few years due to the COVID pandemic.

The USW team was also able to meet new staff from global trade groups and get updated on several roles that transitioned during the pandemic.

“We were able to jump in and reengage with a lot of our grower and grain trade partners from all over the world,” Laudeman said. “If there is one key takeaway it’s that the global grain trade relies heavily on face-to-face interaction when it comes to supply chain relationships. This IGTC meeting was a good way to restart the interactions.”


When clatter around trade policy gets noisy, Dalton Henry likes to quiet things by breaking down issues affecting the exporting of U.S. wheat into two basic categories.

“Everything has potential to be either an opportunity or a distortion,” the Vice President of Policy for U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) explained. “In general, USW’s Policy Team spends every day looking at situations around the world that impact U.S. wheat and sorting out which category they fall under. Then we work on solutions.”

Market access is a centerpiece of trade policy.

As with any agricultural product, tariffs, export barriers and other trade policies can increase the cost of U.S. wheat for the entire supply chain and customers who sit on the buying end of that chain. Ultimately, USW’s Policy Team – Henry and Director of Trade Policy Peter Laudeman – is tasked with helping smooth the process of getting wheat grown by U.S. farmers to customers around the world.

USW Vice President of Policy Dalton Henry presents at the 2022 USW/NAWG Joint Board meeting in early November.

USW Vice President of Policy Dalton Henry details issues and policies facing US. wheat during his presentation at the 2022 USW/NAWG Joint Fall Board meeting in early November.

Where trade agreements do exist, the team monitors them to ensure they are properly implemented and followed. It also keeps an eye on human and environmental health regulations around the world to make sure they don’t disrupt U.S. wheat trade. And the team plays a big role in monitoring the use of wheat in U.S. international food assistance programs.

An example of a trade policy success by USW was realized about a year ago, when it teamed with USDA to show the Vietnamese government why eliminating a 3% tariff on imported U.S. wheat would help ease food inflation while benefiting Vietnamese flour millers.

Australia and Canada, the largest wheat suppliers to Vietnam, had duty-free access to Vietnam under regional trade agreements. The decision at the end of 2021 to remove the tariff on U.S. wheat also helped level the playing field in what is a fast-growing market.

Food Assistance: A Policy Team Focus

Laudeman, who joined USW in August 2022, brought with him diverse experience working for both U.S. growers and the crop protection industry.

In addition to trade policy work alongside Henry and his work on biotech and plant breeding innovation, Laudeman is providing USW with leadership on food assistance and development.

“A lot of people don’t realize our food aid markets, where the U.S. government is purchasing and donating commodities, makes up a Top 10 U.S. wheat export market,” Laudeman said. “The USW Policy Team makes sure that that all regulatory mechanisms are functioning properly when we send U.S. wheat food aid, either as emergency support or on a developmental basis.”

In his role, Laudeman also spends a lot of time working closely with professional economists. As a believer in the notion that trade policy is inherently economics-based, it’s a natural connection for him. He regularly monitors USDA databases and other data sources to assure USW can analyze trade data.

It’s not all numbers and calculators, he emphasized.

“My role is very relationship-based and USW’s relationships with other commodity organizations are vital because many times we need a strong agricultural coalition to work on some of these trade issues that impact us,” he said.

U.S. Wheat Director of Trade Policy Peter Laudeman reviews the effect of Turkey’s flour export scheme on U.S. wheat exports during the the Joint Trade Policy Committee meeting in early November.

U.S. Wheat Director of Trade Policy Peter Laudeman reviews the effect of Turkey’s flour export tactics on U.S. wheat exports at the 2022 USW/NAWG Joint Fall Board meeting.

Preparing for 2023 Issues

While the entire U.S. wheat industry continues to keep an eye on the Russia-Ukraine conflict and its affect on trade, USW’s Policy Team is also focused on a handful of other countries and ongoing situations that could have an impact on wheat trade.

“Where are the big distortions in the global wheat market right now? China continues to be problematic, even though we have seen tremendous progress in how they are running their tariff rate quota system,” Henry notes.  “We still have challenges with their domestic subsidies for a system that produces a larger and larger wheat crop year after year. China continues to hold more than 50% of the world wheat stocks domestically, and that weighs heavily on global wheat prices.”

India’s domestic price support programs also stands out as a red flag in the coming year, Henry noted. He listed Turkey is a third “distorter” because of its on-going policies that encourage dumping of wheat flour and under-reporting data to the World Trade Organization.

At the top of Henry’s 2023 “Wish List” is renewal of anti-dumping duties imposed by the Philippines government on Turkish flour. If the duties are not renewed, the Philippines milling industry will be hurt and up to $100 million in U.S. wheat imports could be lost.

And not going away in 2023 are non-tariff barriers to trade, which represent the fastest-growing  barrier impacting wheat trade, according to Henry.

Examples of non-tariff barriers are rules like maximum residue limits (MRL) on pesticides and limits on weed seed species or insects. Many sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) regulations are critically important to protecting plant and human health, but many countries are using them to protect domestic producers – creating obstacles to trade for U.S. wheat.

Breaking down those obstacles is the goal.

“Trade policy work requires us to be in constant contact with a wide range of regulators and non-government organizations,” said Henry. “Ultimately, the goal is the same – to make sure we are doing everything we can to help keep wheat trade flowing between the farmers we represent and our values customers around the world.”

USW Vice Chair Michael Peter( left) with Sen. Frank Lucas, R-Oklahoman (center) and Yi-Cheun "Tony" Shu, chair of the TFMA, after the Letter of Intent signing at the U.S. Capitol.

USW Vice Chair Michael Peters ( left) with Sen. Frank Lucas, R-Oklahoma (center) and Yi-Cheun “Tony” Shu, chair of the TFMA, after the Letter of Intent signing at the U.S. Capitol.

Representatives from the Taiwan Flour Millers Association (TFMA) signed a Letter of Intent September 14, 2022,  with U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) to purchase 1.9 million metric tons – about 69.8 million bushels – of wheat from the U.S. over the next two years, a commitment with an estimated value of $576 million.

The signing, held at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., was a much-anticipated stop for the 2022 Taiwan Agricultural Trade Goodwill Mission, a team made up of Taiwanese government officials and representatives of some of the largest importers of U.S. grains. The group is led by Yi-Cheun “Tony” Shu, chair of the TFMA and of Formosa Oilseed Processing Co. Also participating is Dr. Ching-Cheng Huang, deputy minister of Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture.

Taiwan is the 6th largest U.S. wheat export market and the 7th largest overseas market for U.S. agricultural products. Along with its intent to purchase U.S. wheat in 2023 and 2024, the team also signed Letters of Intent with the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) and the U.S. Grains Council (USG) to purchase soybeans and corn. The total estimated commitment in the three letters total $3.2 billion.

Michael Peters, USW Vice Chairman, signed the TFMA Letter of Intent on behalf of the U.S. wheat industry.

“American farmers place great value on the relationship between U.S. agriculture and Taiwan,” Peters, a wheat producer and cattle rancher from Okarche, Oklahoma, said during the signing ceremony. “We pride ourselves as being dependable partners who grow the highest quality agriculture products in the world. The TFMA and its members have been great trading partners who fully recognize the value of purchasing U.S. wheat.”

Among U.S. officials on hand were Senators Kevin Cramer, R-North Dakota, John Hoeven, R-North Dakota, Frank Lucas, R-Oklahoma, Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. Representative Steven Chabot, R-Ohio, co-chair of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, was also present to witness the signing.

Following the visit to Washington, D.C., flour millers on the Mission headed west to get a first-hand look at U.S. wheat production and meet the people responsible for supplying high-quality wheat to Taiwan. The team is scheduled to visit wheat farmers in Kansas, Idaho and Oregon. Other scheduled stops also include the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center and the Port of Portland in Oregon.

USW also joined USSEC, USGC, the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and the North American Export Grain Association (NAEGA) in hosting a reception for the Mission team on September 13. The event provided leaders of the U.S. wheat and grain industry an opportunity to catch up with members of the Taiwan Goodwill Mission, which last visited the United States in 2019.

USW President Vince Peterson addresses those gathered for a reception welcoming the 2022 Taiwan Agricultural Trade Goodwill Mission

USW President Vince Peterson addresses those gathered for a reception welcoming the 2022 Taiwan Agricultural Trade Goodwill Mission

USW President Vince Peterson addressed the gathering by pointing out the long and beneficial history of cooperation between Taiwan’s flour milling industry and the U.S. wheat industry that first opened a promotional office in Taipei 56 years ago.

“Our legacy organization Western Wheat Associates established a presence in Taiwan in 1966, so we are going on six decades of working with the country’s flour millers and food industry,” Peterson said. “In that time, Taiwan has purchased more than 45 million metric tons of U.S. wheat. This partnership between TFMA, U.S. Wheat Associates and U.S. wheat producers has been on a great path, and we plan to continue on that path in the future. We truly thank the Taiwan Goodwill Mission for coming to the United States and for its ongoing preference for U.S. wheat and other agricultural products.”


Late spring is a notoriously busy time on U.S. farms. This may partly explain why last month’s World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial meetings in Geneva largely came and went without much notice from U.S. farmers or farm media. Or maybe U.S. farmers have tuned out the inner machinations of a 25-year-old organization that has been promising a new agricultural agreement for more than two-thirds of its existence. Whatever the reason, the actions, both those taken and not taken, will impact U.S. wheat farmers.

The actions taken of note at the WTO Ministerial include a new declaration on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS)* regulations and a commitment by countries to exempt humanitarian purchases by the World Food Programme from export restrictions. The latter is of little consequence to U.S. producers as U.S. laws around export restrictions are pretty tight, part of what has made the United States the most reliable wheat supplier in the world. The SPS front, though, holds more promise.

Fastest Growing Trade Barriers

Non-tariff barriers to trade (which include SPS regs) represent what we on the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) policy team have called “the fastest-growing segment of trade barrier impacting wheat trade.” We have worked on more non-tariff barriers than traditional tariff barriers in the last calendar year. Non-tariff barriers include rules such as maximum residue limits (MRL) on pesticides and limits on weed seed species or insects. Many SPS regulations are critically important to protecting plant and human health, but, in recent years, many countries have found they are a convenient way to protect domestic producers or otherwise frustrate international trade. That the SPS rules received a major update for the first time in their existence at the WTO Ministerial and that the notoriously protectionist European Union joined in supporting them notes just how important they have become to facilitating trade.

Attempts at Weakening WTO Rules

It may seem odd to celebrate actions not taken, almost as though no progress represents a successful outcome. However, that has increasingly been the case for U.S. agriculture at WTO Ministerial meetings in the last decade.

With all hopes of securing meaningful new market access for agriculture essentially dashed since 2008, several developing countries have tried to weaken existing rules. India has been notorious for this, insisting that its public stockholding programs be exempt from subsidy limits – despite exporting substantial wheat and rice stocks from those so-named food security programs. India secured a limited exception to those subsidy rules during the Bali ministerial in 2013. Developing countries also substantially, though temporarily, weakened rules on export subsidies – widely recognized as the most trade distorting form of domestic support during the Nairobi ministerial in 2015.

With those two events as background, an informal coalition of U.S. agricultural groups – “Aggies for WTO Reform” – attended the WTO Ministerial, received briefings from the U.S. government and WTO representatives, and advocated with other country delegations to hold firm in the original rules of the WTO.

Trade Rules for the Greater Good

Those original rules have been critical to the expansion of U.S. agricultural trade since the WTO was formed in 1996. The chart below, shared with USW’s board of directors in early 2022 by USDA Acting Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agriculture Jason Hafemeister, shows the double-sided value to world economies from the WTO. By standardizing the rules of trade and reducing barriers in its initial agreement, the WTO enabled a tremendous rise in exports of U.S. agricultural products while simultaneously lifting millions of people worldwide out of poverty.

Fruits of Globalization chart

So, in looking back at another WTO Ministerial meeting, there may be much to be said about its shortcomings and the need for improvements, but history shows when countries stick to the rules and agreements, trade – and people – win.

*The U.S. Trade Representative defines SPS measures as rules and procedures that governments use to ensure that foods and beverages are safe to consume and to protect animals and plants from pests and diseases.

By USW Vice President of Policy Dalton Henry


This week, the Biden Administration launched a signature foreign policy initiative aimed at increasing economic involvement across Southeast Asia. The initiative is called the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity or IPEF.

According to the initial declaration issued by the participating countries, it “intends to advance resilience, sustainability, inclusiveness, economic growth, fairness, and competitiveness for our economies. Through this initiative, we aim to contribute to cooperation, stability, prosperity, development, and peace within the region.”

TPP Replacement?

While touted by some in the United States as a replacement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for economic engagement in the Southeast Asia region, what has been revealed so far about the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework is quite different from Free Trade Agreements (FTA) like TPP. Unlike an FTA, the IPEF has no plans for addressing tariffs, instead featuring four “pillars” that individual countries can choose to opt-in or out of.

Those pillars are:

  • Trade
  • Supply Chains
  • Clean Energy, Decarbonization and Infrastructure
  • Tax and Anti-corruption

The initial countries agreeing to launch the discussions include key U.S. wheat markets such as Japan, the Philippines, Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia. Others include Australia, Brunei, India, New Zealand and Singapore.

Next Steps

These countries have not yet stated which pillars of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework they intend to join. The outcome of those individual country decisions will likely come after initial negotiations establish the scope of issues to be addressed by each pillar, and for the trade section, this will have far-reaching implications for the value of any subsequent agreement.

The timeline for reaching final agreements across all pillars ranges from 12 to 24 months, making it a hopeful first-term effort for President Biden. IPEF is not expected to require Congressional approval because it would not change U.S. law. Changes would require the U.S. Trade Representative to consult with and eventually seek approval from the U.S. Congress.

This also avoids the need for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which expired nearly a year ago. Politically, TPA is often seen as a prerequisite for large-scale negotiations because it delegates some negotiating powers from Congress to the administration and establishes processes for formal consultation and expedited voting for eventual agreements.

With no congressional approval, required an aggressive timeline is more likely for IPEF. However, it also indicates that the scope of the trade pillar will likely be limited in depth.

By Dalton Henry, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Vice President of Policy 


U.S.-Cuba relations have been up and down like a roller coaster in the 11 years since the last U.S. wheat export shipment to Cuba. Last week, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) staff traveled to the island nation as part of a U.S. agricultural conference to see and hear firsthand about trade opportunities – despite frosty bilateral relations.

There is no clearer example of that roller coaster than in the U.S. embassy. After being shuttered for more than a half-century, the embassy was reopened in 2015 during the Obama administration as a sign of goodwill and a hopeful return to a bilateral relationship. Closed in 2017 after never-proven allegations Cuba had perpetrated a “sonic attack” on diplomats, it now operates on a limited basis. Yet relations are so low that the U.S. government has refused to repair recent hurricane damages.

Image shows a meeting in Cuba of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba

Cuban Meeting. The U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba sponsored a recent meeting for U.S. agricultural representatives, including USW, with Cuban officials and business interests.

Demanding Respect

That roller coaster in relations continued in the recent conference, where high points about the potential of increased trade and renewed relationships were mixed with harsh rhetoric. Throughout three days of meetings and events with government officials, private business owners and conference attendees, the U.S. delegation repeatedly heard about the harm of the U.S. embargo on Cuba, and especially about tightened measures put into place under the Trump administration. Listing Cuba as a state sponsor of terror and further restricting the ability of U.S. business operations garnered a great deal of ire from the Cuban speakers.

Though conducting business with Cuba is more bureaucratically challenging for U.S. companies than nearly anywhere else on earth, Cuba can and does still purchase some U.S. commodities. The prime example is chicken. Cuba now ranks as a top-three destination for U.S. chicken exports.

Complex Situation

The competitive situation for wheat is much more complex than the products they currently purchase. While the United States has a proximity and logistical advantage over any other wheat supplier, Cuban officials said other countries routinely offer generous credit terms of one to two years. Access to any level of financing has proved particularly important to Cuba, given its relative shortage of hard currency.

Agricultural trade with Cuba was authorized under strict terms with the passage of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000. However, the act required onerous payment terms such as full cash payment in advance of exports, use of third-country banks and travel restrictions on cargo vessels between the two countries. Though that policy sparked sales of U.S. commodities for a few years, the Cuban economy continued to struggle, and those terms have become overbearing. The result has been widespread economic distress for the Cuban people, who are now challenged to secure affordable food. Their stories include bread shortages and state-sponsored food ration supplies being unavailable.

Cuba Needs Wheat

Before COVID, Cuba regularly imported an average of 750,000 metric tons of wheat. That volume would likely make Cuba a top-ten market for U.S. wheat under a normal trading relationship. However, a true “normal” relationship would extend beyond just access to private credit and connections between U.S. and Cuban banking sectors to facilitate trade. For Cuba to reach its full potential as a U.S. commodity export destination, it would likely require the enablement of two-way trade – selling Cuban produce and processed products in the U.S. market. That development would go beyond the agricultural sales provisions of the laws that currently allow one-way trade with Cuba.

End the Embargo

While that may be a worthy goal of opening up to Cuba, in the meantime, U.S. growers need Congress to act. Access to the same payment and shipping terms offered to any other wheat market is a good and reasonable starting point.

The United States has long had a policy of not using food as a weapon. It is past time for us to be honest with our own rhetoric in the case of our closest Caribbean neighbor.

By USW Vice President of Policy Dalton Henry, who represented USW on the trip sponsored by the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba.


It is a country that imports about 800,000 metric tons of wheat each year, a mere 90 miles from the United States. Yet the Cuban wheat market has long been a source of optimism and frustration for U.S. wheat farmers. With the change in administrations, there is hope for re-engagement with Cuba, but ultimately the 60-year-old embargo and associated policies still stand as a solid barrier to beneficial trade.

General public opinion polls on Cuba policy consistently show most Americans favor more engagement, the last decade has seen a roller coaster of changes in U.S. policy. Under the Obama-Biden Administration, there were efforts to establish a new relationship and relax tensions. This included a new interpretation of “cash in advance” rules that apply to payment for any agricultural commodities, bilateral exchanges by technical staff in regulatory agencies and the reopening of the U.S. embassy in Havana. However, none of those changes resulted in actual wheat purchases. Then the Trump Administration further restricted trade by limiting any business conducted between American companies and state-owned companies (such as flour mills) in Cuba.

“Wheat is an important food grain that should be above politics, but the embargo will likely have to end before wheat farmers can help … feed the Cuban people.”

With Biden’s return to the White House, Cuba watchers are anxiously awaiting the next curve in the roller coaster ride and are optimistic the administration will return to the Obama-Biden policy of re-engagement. However, any realistic effort to expand ag trade with Cuba needs to focus on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue by working to secure meaningful change within the halls of Congress and addressing the bipartisan opposition to trade with Cuba.

Just such a Congressional effort was launched last week by U.S. Senators John Boozman of Arkansas and Michael Bennet of Colorado with the introduction of the Agricultural Export Expansion Act. That bill would allow private financing of agricultural commodities by U.S. companies – a small first step toward normalizing the trading relationship, but an important one to put U.S. companies on a near level playing field when working with Cuban buyers. Several U.S. agricultural organizations including U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) signed a letter of support for the effort as ad hoc members of the United States Agricultural Coalition for Cuba.

More Legislation

The Ag Export Expansion bill is not the only pro-normalization effort within Congress. U.S. Senators Jerry Moran of Kansas, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, all long-time Cuba trade advocates, earlier this year introduced the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act, which would lift substantial portions of the embargo, including restrictions prohibiting transactions between U.S. and Cuban firms.

Farmers are right to be interested in opening the Cuban wheat market. Cuba produces no wheat domestically and would be a substantial U.S. market if government barriers were to be lifted. But for any of that optimism to come to fruition, it is going to take a literal act of Congress.

“Wheat is an important food grain that should be above politics,” said former USW President Alan Tracy in 2017, “but the embargo will likely have to end before wheat farmers can help meet the increasing demand for agricultural products to help feed the Cuban people.”

By Dalton Henry, USW Vice President of Policy