U.S. unlikely to limit trade despite Castro crackdown
WASHINGTON - U.S. companies sold food worth $138.6 million to Cuba last year and are on track for a 19 percent increase in sales this year despite Fidel Castro’s recent crackdown on dissidents.
The Castro government’s behavior during the past month makes it unlikely that Congress will further relax the 42-year-old trade embargo against Cuba. It is equally unlikely that lawmakers will restrict sales of farm commodities to a nation that quickly has become a big customer of American wheat, corn, chicken, soybeans and rice.
Congress in 2000 allowed sales of U.S. farm commodities to Cuba but limited them to cash-only deals. That restriction actually has proved to be good for U.S. companies, said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.
“Cuba is one of the safest export markets in the world for U.S. companies today because the law requires cash-only transactions,” Kavulich said.
The law does not limit the quantity or value of food and farm products that can be sold to Cuba, which became the 50th-largest farm export market for U.S. companies last year, compared with No. 144 in 2001.
The promise of Cuba as an export market has won over growing numbers of congressional Republicans, particularly those from farm states where low prices and bad weather have squeezed farmers for the past six years.
Free-trade Republicans joined many Democrats in arguing for ending, or at least easing, trade restrictions against Cuba. They pointed out that U.S. penalties had failed to remove Castro from power and deprived American farmers of a potentially major customer.