U.S. Ag Trade with Cuba Works Around Restrictions

The federal government is going to step up enforcement of trade violations with Cuba, but legal trade flourishes.

The Bush administration set up a task force last week to crack down on those who violate trade regulations with Cuba. However, despite pressure from the U.S. and Cuban governments, industries have been exporting agricultural good to Cuba at a strong pace.

President John F. Kennedy first put the U.S. embargo against Cuba into place, but in 2001 Congress lifted the ban on agricultural trade. Trade took off, and in 2005 U.S. companies sold about $350 million in over a dozen agricultural products to Cuba. Cuba now ranks 30th out of 224 U.S. export markets.

"This is about politics, for the U.S. to show they are enforcing the law," says Kavulich, senior policy advisor for the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

In a race for agriculture commissioner in Alabama, which provides about 40% of the $60 million in U.S. poultry sales to Cuba, the candidates take opposite stances on trade with Cuba.

Democrat Ron Sparks, the incumbent, has personally traveled to Cuba to promote Alabama exports there. "We don't deal with Fidel Castro," he says. "We deal with Cuban people. It might make some difference whether a young child gets a meal."

"I personally question even the foundation upon which this trade and commerce is based," says Albert Lipscomb, the Republican challenger.

Kavulich doesn't expect the task force crackdown to get in the way of current trade with Cuba, but others involved in trading with the island worry that the task force will interfere with current U.S.-Cuba trade.

"Those restrictions now expanded with the establishment of the Cuban Sanctions Enforcement Task Force will push even more valuable commerce away from the United States," predicts USA Rice Federation spokesman David Coia.

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