With the help of U.S. legislators and Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, food and farm organizations on Thursday announced the formation of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba.
The coalition's members, ranging from the American Farm Bureau to individual companies like Cargill, are championing an end to the United States' trade embargo against Cuba.
The embargo, dating back to the 1960s, places prohibitions U.S.-Cuba trade and financial transactions.
Following a Dec. 17 Presidential declaration that the U.S. would soon support commerce and normalization of relations with Cuba, the newly formed ag coalition says freer trade should be restored by Congressional action to lift the embargo.
"We are re-energized to establish Cuba as a market for U.S. food and agriculture products," Devry Boughner Vorwerk, USACC chairwoman and Cargill corporate affairs vice president said at the coalition's Washington, D.C. launch Thursday. "We would like to offer high-quality, affordable, safe food to the Cuban citizens."
Despite the embargo, selected ag exports have been allowed. Groups say, however, that financial barriers still limit the United States' ability to compete with other foreign exporters, and market share is shrinking.
According to the National Corn Growers, inability to compete effectively has led to the growing decline of corn exports to Cuba – slowing from nearly 800,000 metric tons in 2008 to 200,000 tons in 2013.
"Cuba is not a level playing field for American farmers. It's time we have a chance to better compete for Cuba's business," NCGA President Chip Bowling said in a prepared statement.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack noted that trade changes also will improve the quality of life for Cuban citizens. "These changes … will expand choices for Cuban shoppers at grocery stores and create a new customer base for America's farmers and ranchers," he said.
According to Vilsack, Cuba is a $1.7 billion market, importing about 80% of its food. Just 90 miles from the United States' southern coast, the country is home to 11 million citizens.
Catch a reply of the entire Coalition announcement on CSPAN.