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Sen. Heitkamp to join Obama on Cuba visit

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., will be joining President Barack Obama on his historic visit to Cuba later this month. The senator announced Friday she will be joining the envoy, along with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, to...

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Heidi Heitkamp

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.,  will be joining President Barack Obama on his historic visit to Cuba later this month.

The senator announced Friday she will be joining the envoy, along with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, to further efforts to expand U.S. agricultural exports to the island nation.

“Being part of this historic trip is a true honor, especially as I fight to expand U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba for the benefit of North Dakota farmers,” Heitkamp said.

Heitkamp has been on the leading edge of lawmakers to lift trade restrictions with Cuba. The senator made her first trip to Cuba in 2014, and she had the opportunity to meet with President Raul Castro in September when he visited the United Nations in New York.

Heitkamp said her familiarity with Cuba’s situation may have been a factor in her selection for the trip.

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“I think it says I’m someone who has been working diligently to build these relationships,” she said.

The trip -- and any easing of  trade sanctions -- are of particular interest to North Dakotans, Heitkamp said, because of the state’s role in agricultural exports. The country’s ninth largest ag exporter, North Dakotan beans, peas and lentils are in high demand in Cuba.

In the way of expanding exports from the Peace Garden state are the remaining finance restrictions. Currently, all U.S. exports to Cuba require cash payment up front, while other countries offer credit to Cuban importers.

“It really was from (the 2014) trip that it became apparent that the biggest hurdle in doing agricultural business in Cuba is financing,” Heitkamp said. “I think they know we are high-quality producers.”

On top of crop exports, Heitkamp said implement dealers stand to do a lot of business with Cuba.

“They obviously have not bought a lot of new equipment since the 1950s,” she said.

The visit by Obama will be the first by a sitting U.S. president since Calvin Coolidge’s trip there in January 1928, when the newly-inaugurated president eased suspicions of American imperialism in the country.

Related Topics: HEIDI HEITKAMP
Robb Jeffries (he/him) is the Night Editor for InForum.com and The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. Robb can be reached at rjeffries@forumcomm.com.
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