By Sarah Mearhoff
Looking for ways to jump-start the economy as the U.S. recovers from the pandemic and yearlong economic fallout, Minnesota’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is leading an effort to reopen international trade agreements with Cuba after a decades-long embargo.
Klobuchar on Wednesday, May 19 reintroduced a bill that would allow the U.S. to export goods to Cuba for the first time since 1961. Only 90 miles from U.S. shores, Cuba could be a major trade opportunity as the U.S. attempts its economic rebound, Klobuchar said.
“Coming off the pandemic, we have to look for new markets for our (agricultural) products and this is one big market of 11 million people, with potential for tourism,” Klobuchar said in a Wednesday interview with Forum News Service.
Prior to 1960, Cuba was the United States’ ninth largest export market, according to a May 14 Congressional Research Service report. Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap said on Wednesday reopening trade with Cuba “just makes perfect sense.”
U.S. agriculture relies on international exports to stay afloat, Paap said, and Cuba needs to import a large portion of its food, with limited land mass to grow their own. Cuba “certainly is not necessarily the biggest market,” but “we should have an advantage of anybody,” Paap said.
“It only makes sense that we have the opportunity to sell Cuba rice and get it there more efficiently economically than… other countries,” Paap said. “We’re a whole lot closer.”
Klobuchar said now is the right time to reopen trade with Cuba not only to help kickstart the agricultural economy, but also because President Joe Biden has signaled renewed interest in the proposition “and that’s helpful.” Asked for her gauge on her congressional colleagues' support, Klobuchar said she knows of a number of bipartisan supporters whose names aren’t on the bill — particularly from agriculture-driven states — who are in favor.
While the bill opens up trade potential, it does not repeal existing laws addressing human rights and property claims against the Cuban government. During three of her visits to Cuba, Klobuchar said “it was very clear to me that the government in Cuba... doesn’t reflect where the Cuban people are with America.”
“I just see the best way to move forward for the American people, to create economic opportunities, but also the Cuban people, is to open things up more,” she said. “Living in the past is not the answer."