OpEd: Cuba’s Opportunity
By Thomas Marten, Manager
Just the other day I overheard a politician ask a farmer about trade with Cuba. Obviously, Cuba is often viewed with intrigue and holds a certain sex appeal. My ears perked up because of how much I follow the issue and here was an opportunity for an honest opinion from a farmer. What came next wasn’t exactly my favorite talking point. He informed the politician that yes, he does support trade with Cuba but that it is relatively insignificant in terms of trade. My ears sunk down.
That farmer isn’t wrong though. Cuba is a relatively small island nation with a population roughly that of Ohio and about the geographic size of Pennsylvania. As I’ve heard it put before, a 1% increase in exports to China easily shadows the benefit of lifting the embargo.
So am I nihilistic about Cuba? Absolutely not! Cuba still represents growth in exports for American producers. While solid data on Cuba’s economy remain elusive, we do know that Cuba has been one of the top 10 importers of US soybean oil, dry peas, dry beans, lentils, rice, powdered milk and poultry meat. Additionally, some project that if Cuba were to import all of their corn needs from the US they’d be one of our top 10 corn export markets.
Cuba is beautiful and Cuba needs food. Back in 2008 their government stated that 80% of their food needs were imported. The Cuban people have been buying food from the US but unfortunately they also buy a lot of their food from the Brazil, Vietnam, the European Union and others. Let me rephrase that – all of our competitors are servicing a market 90 miles from our shores.
At the end of the day Cuba is not the magic cure for all our economic woes. To the US, Cuba represents shared cultural heritage and history. Cuba represents an understanding that trade is a mutual good. Cuba represents an American commitment to providing the highest quality, yet affordable products. To a farmer in northwestern Illinois, Cuba represents another market for his beef and grain crops – albeit a small market.