U.S. wheat producers and the industries that support them stand to gain up to $100 million in sales each year if trade and travel restrictions with Cuba are eased, National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) President Jerry McReynolds told Members of the House Agriculture Committee at a hearing Thursday.
U.S. wheat growers – who consistently produce some of the highest quality wheat in the world – have a distinct advantage in their proximity to the island nation, which cannot produce its own wheat or maintain large purchased stocks.
However, this advantage is negated by ongoing trade restrictions that require cash payment through a third-party bank before shipment leaves U.S. ports and travel restrictions that make it hard for the island country to raise that cash and learn about the U.S. agricultural sales process.
“At a time when our economy needs every possible boost, and when President Obama has made a popular pledge to double U.S. exports, I would contend there is no better time than to re-examine why exactly we are being outcompeted in a market just 90 miles off our shore,” McReynolds, a wheat grower from Kansas, told the Members.
McReynolds, who has traveled to Cuba on an agricultural educational mission and seen first-hand the country’s need for imported agricultural goods, also voiced strong support for H.R. 4645, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, introduced recently by Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.). NAWG and other supporters of the legislation believe the bill would be a catalyst of opportunity for significant new wheat sales to Cuba and a real economic boost in the U.S. heartland.
Cuba is the largest importer of wheat and wheat products in the Caribbean. Over the past three years, Cuba’s population of 11.4 million consumed on average 800,000 metric tons of wheat per year, and the nation’s grain consumption is increasing with population and income growth.
The wheat industry contends that the U.S. should have the lion’s share of the growing Cuban wheat market as it does in the rest of the Caribbean, where its market share averages about 85 percent. Instead, Cuba has turned to other suppliers and now purchases only about 38 percent of its needs from U.S. wheat growers. That gap represents about $100 million and can only be closed by lifting the restrictions to create a more normal trading relationship with Cuba.
For more on the Cuba trade issue, including McReynolds’ complete written testimony, please visit www.wheatworld.org/trade.