Vilsack establishes agricultural collaboration with Cuba

by Ron Sterk
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HAVANA, Cuba — US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced several measures to foster collaboration between US and Cuban agricultural sectors during President Barack Obama’s historic visit to the island nation.

Secretary Vilsack and Cuban Minister of Agriculture Gustava Rodriguez Rollero signed a Memorandum of Understanding that establishes a framework for sharing ideas and research between the two countries. Vilsack also said the US Dept. of Agriculture will allow 22 US industry-funded Research and Promotion Programs and 18 US Marketing Order organizations to conduct authorized research and information exchange with Cuba, enabling cooperative research and information exchanges with Cuba about agricultural productivity, food security and sustainable natural resource management.

“Recognizing the importance of agriculture in the United States and Cuba, USDA is advancing a new partnership for the 21st century between our two countries,” Vilsack said. “US producers are eager to help meet Cuba’s need for healthy, safe, nutritious food. Research and Promotion Marketing Order Programs have a long history of conducting important research that supports producers by providing new uses for various commodities. The agreements we reached with our Cuban counterparts on this historic trip, and the ability for our agriculture sector leaders to communicate with Cuban businesses, will help US agricultural interests better understand the Cuban market, while also providing the Cuban people with science-based information as they grow their own agriculture sector.”

Vilsack also invited the Cuban agriculture minister to visit the USDA’s Climate Sub Hub in Puerto Rico in late May, where USDA researchers are studying the effects of climate change in the subtropical region and strategies for mitigating the effects of climate change.

Most US commercial activity with Cuba is prohibited, but the Trade Sanctions Reform Act of 2000 permits the export of US agricultural commodities, even though agricultural exports to the nation are limited by US restrictions on government export assistance, cash payments and credit, the USDA said.

US agricultural exports have grown significantly since trade was authorized in 2000. Cuba imported more than $2 billion in agricultural products in 2014, including $300 million from the United States. But from 2014 to 2015, US agricultural exports to Cuba fell 48 percent to $148.9 million, the lowest since 2002, and accounted for just 10 percent of market share. The United States is the fourth largest agricultural supplier behind the European Union, Brazil and Argentina.

It was Vilsack’s second visit to Cuba, while President Obama’s visit was the first by a sitting US president in nearly 90 years.

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