Illinois Soybean Growers last week joined with other Illinois groups in leading discussions about establishing and improving trade relations with Cuba.
The Illinois Cuba Working Group, of which ISG is a member, held a conference in Springfield to talk about the outlook for working with Cuba now and in the future.
As part of the Illinois Cuba Working Group, ISG believes both the U.S. and Cuba can benefit with an increased exchange of ideas, knowledge, capital and credit.
"We are at a moment in time when things may be changing in Illinois and in the United States for Cuba," notes keynote speaker Antonio Zamora. The Cuban native explained how Illinois and Florida can work together, how U.S. businesses are currently involved in Cuba and travel restrictions that have been eased during the Obama administration.
"Illinois is enormously important for Cuban policy," Zamora adds.
While the U.S. is the primary supplier of whole soybeans to Cuba, purchasing some 5 million bushels per year, U.S. soybean farmers are losing soybean meal and oil market share in Cuba to competitors who are geographically more distant. In 2006, Global Trade Information Services estimates the U.S. had more than 75% market share for Cuba's soybean meal and oil imports. In recent years, Brazil has had more than 75% market share.
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"Cuba is an important market for Illinois soybeans, given the soybean, meal and oil export potential," adds Bill Raben, soybean farmer and Illinois Soybean Association chairman. "ISG is exploring opportunities to build trade with Cuba, including favoring immediate removal of agricultural trade and travel restrictions and urging Cuban eligibility for various U.S. credit programs. Although ag products are exempt from the embargo, we are losing significant market share on our soy exports because of restrictions the U.S. imposes on financial transactions with Cuba."
University of Florida Ag Economist William Messina talked about agricultural trade in Cuba, including advantages and disadvantages for U.S. goods. He is the founding co-director of the Food and Resource Economics Department's comprehensive research initiative to provide objective and current data, information and analysis on the agricultural sectors in Cuba.
Terry McCoy, professor emeritus and director of the Latin American Business Environment Program at the University of Florida, cited several reasons why the current U.S. policy toward Cuba does not serve national interests of the United States.
"The U.S. has not isolated Cuba, but has isolated itself," he said.
The Illinois Cuba Working Group is a new organization that was formed at the request of the Illinois General Assembly. The organization grew out of an initiative that began in 1999 when Illinois was the first state to travel to Cuba during the embargo. Through the collaboration of Illinois political, business and community support, Congress passed the Trade Sanctions and Reform Act in 2001. That act permitted the sale of agricultural products, and represented the first major effort to remove the embargo and barriers to "normalized" trade relations with Cuba. For more information, visit http://illinoiscuba.org.