By Ben Conner, USW Vice President of Policy
Cuban President Raúl Castro stepped down this week, closing a six-decade chapter in Cuban history with a Castro leading the communist island nation. During Raúl Castro’s tenure, Cuba’s government has very slowly transitioned to authorize some private sector activity and taken modest steps towards improving relations with the United States.
Hopefully this transition of power will provide an opportunity for a new generation of Cuban leaders to accelerate reforms and further open their country to international trade and investment, while allowing a more free exchange of goods and services between themselves and with U.S. citizens and organizations.
Certainly, obstacles on the U.S. side remain, particularly the outdated trade embargo that prevents most U.S. exporters from assessing and taking their own risks in trade with Cuba. U.S. farmers stand to benefit if the U.S. Congress ends the embargo, which would open the door to the largest Caribbean island wheat market.
Since the most recent President Castro took over from his brother, Fidel, in April 2011, the Cuban government has not purchased any U.S. wheat. At its peak, Cuba was a 500,000 metric ton (MT) market for U.S. wheat, and today it regularly imports around 800,000 MT from other origins. While wheat trade is allowed with Cuba under current U.S. law, other U.S. restrictions make exports cost prohibitive, and the overall embargo poisons the well for any meaningful trade relationship.
This can and should change. U.S. wheat farmers need as many open markets as possible. A leadership transition in Cuba is not a frequent event; let us hope both sides make the most of it.