In her testimony, Klobuchar discussed the importance of passing her bipartisan legislation to lift the Cuba trade embargo, which would eliminate the legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba
Klobuchar recently traveled to Cuba to meet with agriculture and export officials to identify ways to open up new economic opportunities for businesses and farmers in the United States
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) today testified before the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) to highlight the economic benefits of boosting American exports to Cuba. In her testimony, Klobuchar discussed the importance of passing her bipartisan legislation to lift the Cuba trade embargo, which would eliminate the legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba. Klobuchar recently traveled to Cuba to meet with agriculture and export officials to identify ways to open up new economic opportunities for businesses and farmers in the United States.
“The Cuba trade embargo has disadvantaged American businesses by restricting commerce to 11 million people just 90 miles from our shores,” Klobuchar said. “If you’ve been trying the same approach for fifty years and it hasn’t worked, it’s probably time to change course. My bipartisan bill to lift the embargo will knock down the legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba and help open up new export opportunities for American businesses and farmers in Minnesota and all across the country.”
Klobuchar’s bipartisan Freedom to Export to Cuba Act would lift the current embargo, which will allow more U.S. goods to be exported to Cuba, boosting job creation and exports. It does not repeal provisions of current law that address human rights in Cuba or that allow individuals and businesses to pursue claims against the Cuban government. Klobuchar is also a cosponsor of bipartisan legislation to lift the Cuba travel ban.
The full text of the senator’s testimony to the International Trade Commission is below.
Testimony from U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar:
I am so grateful for the opportunity to speak with you about something that is near and dear to my heart and that is providing the freedom for Americans to export to Cuba.
The simple fact is over fifty years of the embargo have not brought change to Cuba. It has not brought change for the Cuban people. And the embargo has constrained opportunities for American businesses by restricting commerce to 11 million people that live just 90 miles off of our shores.
Back in February, I visited Cuba with Senators Warner and McCaskill, where I met with some of the senior officials at the Foreign Ministry, including the Foreign Minister and Director Josefina Vidal. We met with representatives of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment. We met with religious leaders from the Catholic and Jewish communities who are very involved in human rights issues, and we met with a number of entrepreneurs who are taking advantage of some of the economic reforms in Cuba by doing everything they can from managing their own restaurants to sewing baby clothes and mosquito nets to running a chauffeur service for classic cars. And there are a lot of classic cars and I know that many Americans are very excited to go to Cuba and picture those classic cars and romanticize it, and it is beautiful. But one thing we all know is that there is nothing romantic about poverty; that there are still huge problems with their economy despite the fact that there are 600,000 entrepreneurs there now, the people are ahead of the government. And I believe the way we get to the point of change is by changing that embargo.
More than anything else on that trip, I was struck by the fact that everywhere we went there was artwork in the markets, on the walls, you would see the date December 17. And honestly at first I thought, “Oh what’s that? It must be some far away revolutionary date.” No, no, no. December 17 was the date that President Obama said that he wanted to open relations with Cuba. And they literally had made all this artwork and the date was everywhere on walls because it was their way of saying that they want to open up relations themselves.
Cubans are looking forward to more opportunities to interact with Americans, to do business with us, and to work with us to improve economic opportunities and the quality of life in their own country.
There is an eagerness for person-to-person contact and relations that have been blocked for decades. The excitement is alive in my state, too. The Minnesota Orchestra just returned from a historic trip to Cuba, where they were welcomed with open arms. This is the first major orchestra from the United States that has performed in Cuba for decades. This is the kind of relationship we want to help rebuild the relationship between our people. And the Cuban people, as I said, are ahead of the government.
This is why I introduced the bipartisan Freedom to Export to Cuba Act. My lead Republicans are Senator Enzi and Senator Flake. Also included on the bill are Senators Stabenow, Leahy, Durbin, Paul, Wyden, Franken, McCaskill, and Tester. And we have a lot of interest in other senators who want to get on the bill. The bill lifts the trade embargo to Cuba and knocks down the legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba. The bill will also help open up new economic opportunities for American businesses and farmers by boosting U.S. exports and allowing Cubans greater access to American products.
Of course, I’m also co-sponsor of Senator Flake’s bill to lift the travel restrictions. I introduced a similar bill a few years ago and I think there’s a lot of thought that that bill may move first. And I always thought, “Okay, that bill moves first, ours kind of sits there.” Well here’s the problem. If ours sits there for too long and we lift the travel restrictions and we don’t do anything about the embargo then all these Americans are going to start going there and they’re going to eat Chinese food. They’re going to stay in German hotels. Because at some point we’re going to have to lift that embargo close to when we open the travel restrictions. Our American businesses will actually be sending Americans to Cuba but then not getting the oomph that you usually would have in the economic gain from providing services there as well.
Ultimately I believe that by lifting the embargo this legislation will help usher in a new era for American exporters to access this important market that we have blocked ourselves out of for 50 years.
The process that the president has jumpstarted to normalize our ties with Cuba is a positive step forward. My home state of Minnesota exported about $20 million in agricultural products to Cuba in 2013. You might wonder, “Well, how did that happen?” That is because of the humanitarian exemption. But with the president’s action alone, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture estimates that ag exports could increase by another $20 million. That is just out of our state.
The United States is already one of the largest sources of imports to Cuba based solely on authorized shipments of agriculture and medical supplies. Over the past decade, we have been one of Cuba’s top suppliers of food products.
When Senators Warner, McCaskill and I were there, we were some of the first members of Congress to see the new port that is being built there, Mariel. And you can see this port is waiting for exports. The port of Havana is going to become a tourist port. This is going to be a major port to bring in imports from all over the world. We want those goods to be American goods.
In general, for every $73,600 in U.S. food and agricultural exports to Cuba, one job is created in the United States and an additional $170,000 in economic activity is required to support those additional exports. Cuba’s population, as I said, is 11 million, that’s 11 million new customers.
I have also talked to our businesses in Minnesota and many of them believe that opening up the market in Cuba will greatly help them in the rest of Latin America. This has always been used as a reason not to take American goods by other Latin American countries. And by opening up and defrosting the relations with Cuba, we will actually help American businesses, which means American jobs in the rest of these Latin American countries. And that is also something that I hope we look at.
The Freedom to Export to Cuba Act will help us with all of this. It is simply a targeted repeal of the provisions in current law that keep the embargo in place, including restrictions that prevent American businesses from financing their own exports to the island and requirements for American firms to seek special licenses for any special transaction with Cuba.
It’s also important to emphasize what this bill does not do. There are many outstanding issues between our two countries that must be dealt with, especially our concerns about the Cuban government’s repressive policies.
That is why this bill does not repeal provisions of current law that address human rights in Cuba or that allow individuals and businesses to pursue claims against the Cuban government for expropriated property.
The embargo has not solved the issues I just mentioned. Members on both sides of the aisle recognize that continuing along the same path with respect to Cuba has not achieved our objectives and has constrained Americans’ freedom to pursue business opportunities abroad.
When we were there, we met with ambassadors from countries like Germany and Brazil. By the way, Brazil financed the port, and when the port authorities wanted to use American computers—I think we have some good ones for that port like they do all over the world—they we not able to. They used Chinese computers. That is what we’re dealing with as this market starts to open.
I believe that now is the time to build on our current progress and lift the embargo and the restrictions that keep Americans from competing for business in Cuba. Doing so will help forge a practical and positive relationship that will boost opportunities for Americans to export.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I look forward to continuing to help American exporters to grow our economy through increased commerce with Cuba.
Thanks for holding this important hearing.