Rice Market: Will Biden Open Up Cuba?

    ©Debra L Ferguson

    Following President Joe Biden’s inauguration last week, one potential opportunity for change in foreign policy is the U.S. relationship with Cuba.

    The Trump Administration had curtailed Obama-era diplomatic and commercial improvements with Cuba, however, those tensions may once again start to thaw, though the level of engagement President Biden will undertake remains to be seen. An open trade relationship with Cuba would benefit many U.S. industries, especially the U.S. rice industry.

    “Cuban per capita rice consumption is more than seven times that of Americans and with the capacity to grow less than half of the island’s needs, the country imports roughly 500,000 MT of rice per year,” said Asiha Grigsby, USA Rice director of international promotion in the Western Hemisphere.

    “For a brief period in the early 2000s, the U.S. was permitted to sell and ship to Cuba and consumers there were excited to have access again to our high-quality rice.”

    In 2004, at the peak of the commercial relationship, 176,000 MT of long grain rice was purchased, making Cuba the sixth largest export destination that year.

    “During challenging years, like 2020, with tough economic conditions and a sufficient long grain supply, the U.S. could have greatly benefited from an export market just 100 miles from our shores, and potentially outperform some of our export competitors like Vietnam and Brazil,” said Grigsby.

    In support of a renewed relationship with Cuba, USA Rice joined with more than 20 other national agriculture trade associations in signing a letter from the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC) encouraging the new administration to resume efforts to normalize relations with Cuba.

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    The group urged restoration of regulations to those in place on January 20, 2017, suspension of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, and resumption of full operation of the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

    Despite support from many in the agriculture community, there remain significant challenges to overcome before a gainful relationship with Cuba can resume. While the Biden Administration has indicated it intends to engage with Cuba, the extent to which they are willing and able to do so remains unknown. Many simultaneous problems, including the COVID-19 pandemic and its ensuing economic crisis, will likely take priority.

    Grigsby added, “In addition to the changes requested in the letter, USA Rice also supports lifting of the U.S. trade embargo and removal of third-party financing restrictions for agricultural trade with Cuba, both of which require Congressional action in addition to Administration-driven regulatory changes.”

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