U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran wants to lift the country’s trade restrictions with Cuba, a move he says will help agricultural states like Kansas, but he’ll face astronomical odds, according to a Cuba expert.
Moran, a Manhattan Republican, introduced legislation last month that would eliminate trade restrictions with Cuba, enabling Kansas farmers and ranchers to ship their goods to the island more easily.
“Only the United States has sanctions against Cuba. … When we don’t sell wheat to Cuba, France does or Canada does,” Moran said in an interview Wednesday.
Moran, who has introduced versions of the legislation in the past, called it a challenging time for farmers.
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“We need every market that we can get and this is one more market that’s easy for us,” Moran said, noting that Cuba is only 90 miles from the U.S. and the transportation costs for goods would be significantly less than for goods from Europe.
John Kavulich, president of the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said a U.S. law passed in 2000 enabled U.S. businesses to export to Cuba but required that payments be made before the goods could be distributed. Kavulich cited Cuba’s questionable credit as the rationale for the policy.
Kavulich said that efforts to change the 2000 law have failed for more than a decade and he doubted that Moran and others would succeed under President Donald Trump, who took a hard line approach toward Cuba on the campaign trail. Kavulich said that neither U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, nor U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, appear eager to take up the issue.
“Now, how is it that Mr. Moran and others believe the stars have aligned for them? It’s mind-boggling,” Kavulich said. “They couldn’t get anything done during the eight years when they had a president who wanted to get something done.”
President Barack Obama made moves to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba during the final two years of his presidency. Trump has floated the possibility of rolling back some of Obama’s reforms, saying on Twitter in November that he would “terminate the deal” if Cuba was unwilling to negotiate a better deal.
James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a national group pushing to expand trade with Cuba, said Moran’s bill could “give the president more space to enter into negotiations, which we all know he loves to do.” He said the idea was gaining momentum in the business community and questioned that Trump would stand in its way.
“You’re talking about a $2 billion agriculture market that could be available to American producers with the stroke of the pen,” Williams said.
Moran said Wednesday that his legislation’s best chance to advance is probably as an amendment to another bill. He also pushed back on the notion that Trump would necessarily be a bigger obstacle than previous presidents.
“Dealings with Cuba have been controversial and challenging under every administration,” Moran said. “This administration has indicated they’re going to review the policy and start from scratch.”