Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says Cuba Trade Could Grow to Nearly $500 Million
WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack predicts U.S. trade with Cuba could rebound from its current $300 million to close to $500 million, with Florida among the states capitalizing the most.
"Today I can't use a single dollar of my trade promotion (budget) for our trade with Cuba," Vilsack said in an interview this week with the Tampa Bay Times. "It's 11 million people, a $1.7 billion market, and we really ought to be dominating that market."
To further increase these profits, Vilsack urged Congress to go beyond the loosened trade restrictions ordered by President Obama. Namely, he called for Congress to allow the Department of Agriculture to promote trade in Cuba and other international markets where it is currently immobilized. Vilsack says the prolonged Cuban embargo has caused the U.S. to lose economic ground to European and South American markets.
The list of agricultural products that could be exported to Cuba is a lengthy, including rice, poultry, soybeans, fruits, and vegetables, to name a few. Florida ports can capitalize in two ways: as a direct shipper of fruits and vegetables and as a conduit for products brought in from other states, Vilsack told the Tampa Bay Times.
Even without trade promotions, just January’s loosened restrictions will make a difference, Vilsack said. For one, goods will no longer have to be paid for in advance, a major disadvantage for Cubans "who don't have a lot of cash," he said. Previously, Cubans had to go through a third party to receive many American products, which they can now deal directly with American banks to get.
Vilsack also included a few observations on other markets. For one, he believes that an expanding middle class in Asia and the Trans-Pacific Partnership could grow trade opportunities there from $525 million today, to more than $2 billion within 15 years. And when the Tampa Bay Times asked about his department’s top priority in Florida, Vilsack offered battling citrus greening, a disease that has decimated Florida's orange crop, adding that there is risk of “fundamentally altering” the entire agriculture structure of Florida.
Stay tuned to AndNowUKnow for continuing updates on Cuba trade relations.