U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Pall Mall, went to Cuba on a trade mission for a specific Tennessee agricultural company and says he came back with ideas that may help other state businesses.
Davis, who represents the 4th Congressional District, said the trip Dec. 18-21 was exploratory for selling a soil supplement of calcium silicate for a company, Chemagri, put together by Livingston businessman Millard Oakley.
“I’m not at liberty to talk too much about it. We talked trade,” Davis said.
Davis was on the trip with Oakley; Jim Sasser, former U.S. senator of Tennessee and former U.S. ambassador to China; and 6th District U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Murfreesboro.
Oakley said the company is licensed by the U.S. Treasury and Commerce departments to do business in Cuba.
Davis said the soil supplement would help enhance growth of sugar cane and rice and also imparts disease resistance to crops.
While the U.S. does not officially allow trade with Fidel Castro’s Cuba, the embargo exempts agriculture, Davis said.
The congressman serves on the House Agriculture Committee. He was in agribusiness before being elected to public office.
“I wanted to go to show support for agricultural products in Tennessee,” Davis said. He said he probably will pay for the trip rather than let the Oakley company pay expenses.
The group traveled 150 miles northeast of Havana to a cigar plant where workers hand-rolled cigars. As a former tobacco farmer himself, Davis was interested in what he saw.
“There wasn’t a single leaf with any distortion or insect bite,” he said.
In learning about Cuba’s economy and the need for certain processed foods, Davis said things started “clicking in my mind” about businesses in the 4th District that might benefit by trading with Cuba.
While he hasn’t talked with anyone yet, Koch Poultry, a processing company, in Morristown, is one he has in mind, he said.
The group met with trade and National Assembly representatives but not with Castro.
“It was a business trip, not a state trip,” Davis said.
The congressman believes all types of trade should be resumed with Cuba.
“I believe America should take down the embargo,” Davis said. “It opens up an avenue for agriculture. The country won’t be more productive than the U.S. It won’t be more competitive, and it might give us an edge to be a customer.”
Another Tennessee congressman, U.S. Rep. John Tanner, D-Union City, was part of a bi-partisan group that went to Cuba earlier in the year as members of the Cuba Working Group. That group is pushing for changes in American policy toward Cuba, including opening up the country to travel.