A top-ranking senator on the Finance Committee has ended a deadlock with the Treasury Department over U.S. exporters’ agricultural sales to Cuba.
BY PABLO BACHELET
WASHINGTON - A top senator ended a seven-month standoff on Treasury Department nominees last week after the Bush administration clarified new rules that the lawmaker said made it harder for U.S. companies to sell food to Cuba.
‘‘I pushed the Treasury Department hard so that ag exporters could continue to sell their products to Cuba,’’ Sen. Max Bauchus, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement on Friday. ``I’m optimistic that this clarification will provide U.S. ag exporters in Montana and elsewhere with another option to restart ag sales to Cuba.’‘
Agricultural sales to Cuba fell by about 25 percent in the first five months of the year compared with the same period in 2004 after the Treasury Department ruled in February that Cuba had to pay U.S. companies before the shipment left a U.S. port, instead of after docking in Havana.
Bauchus says the new requirement—an interpretation of ‘‘cash in advance’’ regulations governing sales to Cuba—was especially difficult for small exporters.
Under the deal, the payment will still have to be made before the boat leaves a U.S. port, but Treasury clarified that it can be held in a foreign bank that acts as a seller’s agent until the shipment reaches Cuba.
The change doesn’t amount to much because companies were already using foreign banks to trade with Cuba, said John S. Kavulich, a senior policy advisor for the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, Inc., a New York-based institution that monitors trade.
‘‘It is always useful when the Treasury Department puts something in writing,’’ he said.