A historic trade trip to Cuba is going well, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D- Minn., and Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., say.
They’re optimistic that Congressional efforts to ease restrictions on exports will go well, too.
Klobuchar and Emmer held a conference call with the news media Monday afternoon. The two spoke from Cuba, where they’re part of a trade mission with President Obama.
Klobuchar and Emmer are leading sponsors of proposed Senate and House legislation that would lift the current U.S. trade embargo on Cuba and allow more U.S. exports there.
There’s a “real possibility” that Congress could act on the legislation by the end of the year, Emmer said.
“The public is overwhelming with us on this issue,” with the task now to persuade legislators to support lifting trade embargoes, Klobuchar said.
“It’s a member-by-member issue in Congress,” she said.
Upper Midwest farmers and ranchers stress the importance of increasing agricultural exports to Cuba. The island-nation of 11 million people, just 90 miles from U.S. shores, imports many of the foods grown in this part of the country, including corn, poultry, soybeans, barley, dry beans and lentils. But the U.S. has been losing market share to other food exporters, primarily Brazil, Argentina and the European Union.
America accounts for only 10 percent of Cuban food imports, a percentage that could and should be much higher, Klobuchar said.
Minnesota already exports $20 million of ag products annually to Cuba, a figure that could double or triple, she said.
Minnesota ag exports to Cuba could double or triple, she said.
Nonagricultural businesses in the U.S. would benefit from greater trade, too, she and Emmer said.
Obama’s trip to Cuba — the first by a serving U.S. president since 1928 — is seen as an important step forward by supporters of greater U.S. ag exports. Communists seized power in Cuba in 1959, and the U.S. later imposed an economic embargo on trade with Cuba.
The two countries have historic ties, however. Klobuchar mentioned Tony Oliva, a baseball player born in Cuba who later starred with the Minnesota Twins.
Human rights concerns
Critics complain about what they perceive as violations of human rights by the Cuban government.
Emmer said U.S. efforts to increase trade with Cuba gives America more leverage to address those concerns.
Cuba is making progress on human rights, and greater exposure to American products and ideals would further that, Klobuchar said.
“We have to look at these things as one step at a time, and not make perfection the enemy of the good,” she said.
She and Emmer said the Cuban people are excited by Obama’s visit.
“They’re lining the streets, even in the rain yesterday, to greet us,” Klobuchar said.