On Wednesday the House Foreign Affairs Committee will begin markup of H.R. 4645, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act. The bill would lift travel restrictions to Cuba and ease some of the financial requirements that are currently in place, which make trade difficult. The bill has bipartisan support and is also being pushed by several agricultural groups.
"Right now Cuba has to pay cash for anything they buy, so really it's an embargo against U.S. farmers," said National Corn Growers Vice President Bart Schott. "It's one way trade; they buy from us we can't buy from them and anything they do buy has to be cash, it has to go through a third-party bank and sometimes the fees they charge are 18%. So we've got to get this bill done."
The bill, which is sponsored by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., sailed through the Agriculture Committee earlier this summer. However the House Foreign Affairs Committee shares jurisdiction over the issue and must approve the bill.
Another group supporting passage of H.R. 4645 is the American Soybean Association. ASA President Rob Joslin says liberalizing trade with Cuba is very important for American agriculture.
"We are exporting about $144 million of U.S. soybeans to that market just 90 miles off our shore," Joslin said. "That would greatly increase if some of the banking restrictions that are in play were lifted."
Several Cuban-American groups have voiced their support of lifting the embargo against Cuba, saying that the embargo has failed to accomplish what it was put in place for and more of those goals could be reached if the embargo was lifted. Joslin says he couldn't agree more.
"I really believe trade is how you open up markets, how you build relationships, how you start engaging the people," Joslin said. "The embargo has just put a wall between the Cuban government and the United States government and I think it serves the interests of this country to remove that embargo."
Companion legislation to H.R. 4645 is currently awaiting action in the Senate Finance Committee.