Vilsack promotes agricultural collaboration with Cuba

by Ron Sterk
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U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced several measures to foster collaboration between U.S. and Cuban agricultural sectors.

HAVANA, CUBA — U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced several measures to foster collaboration between U.S. and Cuban agricultural sectors during President Barack Obama’s historic visit to the island nation.

Secretary Vilsack and Cuban Minister of Agriculture Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero signed a Memorandum of Understanding that establishes a framework for sharing ideas and research between the two countries. Mr. Vilsack also said the U.S. Department of Agriculture will allow 22 U.S. industry-funded Research and Promotion Programs and 18 U.S. Marketing Order organizations to conduct authorized research and information exchange with Cuba about agricultural productivity, food security and sustainable natural resource management.

Secretary Tom Vilsack
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack

“Recognizing the importance of agriculture in the United States and Cuba, U.S.D.A. is advancing a new partnership for the 21st century between our two countries,” Mr. Vilsack said. “U.S. producers are eager to help meet Cuba’s need for healthy, safe, nutritious food. Research and Promotion Marketing Order Programs have a long history of conducting important research that supports producers by providing new uses for various commodities. The agreements we reached with our Cuban counterparts on this historic trip, and the ability for our agriculture sector leaders to communicate with Cuban businesses, will help U.S. agricultural interests better understand the Cuban market, while also providing the Cuban people with science-based information as they grow their own agriculture sector.”

Mr. Vilsack also invited the Cuban agriculture minister to visit the U.S.D.A.’s Climate Sub Hub in Puerto Rico in late May, where U.S.D.A. researchers are studying the effects of climate change in the subtropical region and strategies for mitigating these effects.

Most U.S. commercial activity with Cuba is prohibited, but the Trade Sanctions Reform Act of 2000 permits the export of U.S. agricultural commodities, even though agricultural exports to the nation are limited by U.S. restrictions on government export assistance, cash payments and credit, the U.S.D.A. said.

U.S. agricultural exports have grown significantly since trade was authorized in 2000. Cuba imported more than $2 billion in agricultural products in 2014, including $300 million from the United States. But from 2014 to 2015, U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba fell 48% to $148.9 million, the lowest since 2002, and accounted for just 10% of market share. The United States is the fourth largest agricultural supplier behind the European Union, Brazil and Argentina.

It was Mr. Vilsack’s second visit to Cuba, while President Obama’s visit was the first by a sitting U.S. president in nearly 90 years.
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