A New Course for Cuba
President Barack Obama recently set a new course by opening relations with Cuba. The changes will allow more travel for Americans to Cuba and allow Americans to bring back more goods from their visit. Cuban-Americans also will be able to send more money back to relatives. In addition, businesses will be able to have easier financing for trade.
While full diplomatic relations are not restored, these changes will make it easier for Georgians to conduct business in the Cuban marketplace. Georgia businesses have new opportunities, such as poultry exports and tourist flights from the airport. Cuba is only 621 miles from the Port of Savannah. It imports roughly 80 percent of its food and products from as far away as New Zealand.
Even with the embargo, the United States has been Cuba’s fifth-largest trading partner since 2007. This was boosted in part by President George W. Bush’s decision in 2003 to authorize exports of U.S. agricultural products to the island. However, no export assistance or credit guarantees were made available. Exporters were denied access to U.S. private commercial financing, and all transactions had to be conducted in cash in advance or with financing from businesses in third countries.
A 2009 study by the U.S. International Trade Commission found that without financing restrictions for agriculture exports to Cuba, trade would have increased from 38 percent to as much as 64 percent. Among U.S. agricultural products that could have benefited most were wheat, rice, beef, pork, processed foods and fish. Now that such restrictions are set to be eased, Georgia agriculture is poised to grow.
Agriculture employs roughly one of six Georgians. It contributes roughly $72.5 billion annually to our state’s $786.5 billion economy.
Georgia leads the United States in the production of peanuts, pecans, watermelon and broilers and is a top producer of peaches and blueberries. Each day, the state’s poultry industry creates roughly 29 million pounds of chicken, 6.3 million table eggs and 5.5 million hatching eggs. This industry has the most potential to grow, since Cuba already is Georgia’s sixth-largest poultry export market.
Beyond the dollar impact an expansion of Georgia’s goods into Cuba would bring, we must also recognize that renewed ties between the United States and Cuba would increase our standing and influence in the region and the world. An influx of American travelers and increased trade will further expose the Cuban people to free enterprise and American ideals. The regime will not change overnight, but that has not stopped the U.S. from being a strong trading partner with China and Vietnam. President Raúl Castro can no longer blame the embargo for all of Cuba’s ills.
We need to move beyond the Cold War mentality so we can focus on terrorism and other modern threats. Governments antagonistic to U.S. interests have long used Cuba as a foreign policy tool in America’s backyard. With the Russian and Venezuelan economies faltering, Cuba will need to find a new economic partner. What better way to push Putin away from the Caribbean than to bring Cuba into our orbit?
With greater inter-American cooperation and trade comes greater access to our culture of democracy and values. We must shine our light on places where human rights need improvement. We must stand with our Georgia businesses and farmers to ensure they are in as advantageous a position as possible on the global stage. Now is the time to turn the page on the United States’ foreign policy with Cuba.
This opinion piece ran in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2015.