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Agweek in D.C.: Great potential in Cuba for U.S. ag products

WASHINGTON -- American farmers and ranchers want to sell more of their products to Cuba. Mark Feierstein says the Obama administration wants that, too.

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Mark Feierstein

WASHINGTON - American farmers and ranchers want to sell more of their products to Cuba. Mark Feierstein says the Obama administration wants that, too.

“We think Cuba is a market the United States should be dominating, as far as agriculture,” said Feierstein, National Security Council senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs. The NCS is the President’s principal forum for considering national security and foreign policy matters with his senior national security advisers and cabinet officials.

Feierstein met with members of North American Agricultural Journalists during the organization’s recent annual convention in Washington, D.C.

He said he’s well aware “U.S. producers are eager to help meet Cuba’s need for healthy, safe and nutritious food.”

Cuba and its 11 million people, just 90 miles from U.S. shores, import many of the foods grown on the Northern Plains, including corn, poultry, soybeans, barley, dry beans and lentils. But the U.S. has been losing market share to other food exporters, primarily Brazil, Argentina and the European Union. America accounts for only 10 percent of Cuban food imports, a percentage that could and should be much higher, Feierstein said.

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U.S. restrictions on extending credit to Cuba with which to buy U.S. ag product is a serious handicap, and lifting or easing those restrictions would be a big help, he said.

Obama’s recent trip to Cuba, the first by a serving U.S. president since 1928, is seen as an important step forward by supporters of greater U.S. ag exports. Communists seized power in Cuba in 1959, and the U.S. later imposed an economic embargo on trade with Cuba.

The trip was consistent with Obama’s longstanding policy of “engagement and respectful partnerships,” Feierstein said.

The Obama administration already has implemented a number of changes that will help U.S. ag producers sell their products in Cuba, Feierstein said. The list includes allowing Cuba to utilize more research funded by the U.S. ag industry.

Feierstein declined to speculate on when the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba might be lifted. But he said there’s “an increasing constituency” that supports doing so.

In any case, Obama and his administration will continue to press for closer economic ties with Cuba during his remaining time in office, Feierstein said.

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