BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal says opening trade with Cuba would be a bad idea, but the Commissioner of Agriculture disagrees.
Dr. Mike Strain says opening trade with Cuba would be a tremendous benefit, especially to Louisiana, which already ships rice, poultry, and other frozen products to the country. He also says it is time to re-examine the 50-year embargo.
Louisiana farmers have long enjoyed a bountiful rice crop but they have not always gotten top dollar for their harvest. The crop is in high demand in Cuba. The soil is too poor there to grow rice. But improved relations between the U.S. and Cuba raised barriers that have made getting food difficult.
"When you look at the overall situation in Cuba, the people are hungry," Strain said.
Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry, Dr. Mike Strain, said rice is exported to Cuba through the Port of Lake Charles. But because the purchase cannot be made directly, it must go through a third party and Cuba had to pay cash in advance. Strain said loosening restrictions would remove the middle man.
"We could sell 480,000 to 500,000 metric tons of rice to Cuba a year. That's over $100 million, just in rice."
Rice is just one product. There are many more shipped to Cuba each year. According to the United States International Trade Commission, last year the U.S. exported just under $350 million in agricultural goods to Cuba. $144 million of that was chicken. Some of the top products shipped there consisted of canned food, frozen sausages, and frozen pork.
Strain said an open trade agreement would open doors to more even possibilities.
"When you look at refined petrochemicals, agricultural implements, overall value of us exporting those products to Cuba and re-establish our trade, as they grow in their economy they will buy more of our products."
The equipment would help rice, wheat, and poultry farmers gain at least 15 to 25 percent more for their crops.
Strain said the potential benefit for both countries is there.
"After 50 years of an embargo, it is time."
Strain added, the agreement could also open a port-of-call in Cuba by way of Key West, for cruise lines that sail out of New Orleans. That would also help generate more money for Louisiana.