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  • By Lynda Kiernan-Stone, Global AgInvesting Media

Historic U.S.-Cuba Agriculture Agreements Announced by Ag Secretary Vilsack

Efforts to normalize the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba took a step forward last weekend, as Barack Obama became the first U.S. President to visit Cuba since President Calvin Coolidge made the trip in 1928. Along with the presidential visit, aimed at forwarding normalization through connecting U.S. and Cuban citizens through expanded travel, commerce, and access to information, came announcements from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, regarding increased cooperation between the U.S. and Cuban agricultural sectors.

"Recognizing the importance of agriculture in the United States and Cuba, USDA is advancing a new partnership for the 21st century between our two countries," said Vilsack.

Cuba imports anywhere from 50-80 percent of its food and while it remains a relatively small market it still represents a potential for billions of dollars in U.S. commodity exports that lies only 90 miles offshore. This opportunity is particularly enticing for the U.S., as the year has seen a significant drop in U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba, from $300 million in 2014 to $149 million in 2015, according to the USDA.

While there may appear to be an imbalance in this relationship, with greater opportunity for the U.S. to capitalize on trade than for Cuba, Vilsack and the USDA aim to create a relationship that will balance over time. The U.S. and Cuba are connected through a common climate and agriculturally-focused concerns and during bilateral meetings on March 21, Secretary Vilsack and Cuba’s Minister of Agriculture Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero signed a Memorandum of Understanding creating a framework for the exchange of research and ideas between the two countries. Secretary Vilsack also invited Minister Rodriguez to visit one of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Climate Sub Hubs located in Puerto Rico where scientists are studying the effects, and ways to mitigate the effects, of climate change in subtropical regions.

Calling the announcement "a significant step forward in strengthening our bond and broadening agricultural trade between the United States and Cuba," Secretary Vilsack also announced that the USDA will sanction 22 industry-funded Research and Promotion Programs and 18 Marketing Order organizations to carry out the authorized exchange of research and information regarding agricultural productivity, food security, and sustainable natural resource management with their Cuban counterparts.

In a USDA release, potential points of exchange were explained, including:

  • Providing guidance on nutritional research and participation with the Cuban government at meetings nutrition-related Cuban regulations.

  • Conduction studies to ascertain what Cuban students eat and discard with the goal of creating improved nutritional guidelines for school meal requirements.

  • Providing U.S.-based market, consumer, environmental, and nutrition research findings to Cuban government and industry officials.

  • Conducting consumer testing in Cuba on specific products and recipes to determine preferences to be considered for product development and acceptance.

  • Conducting consumer studies in Cuba to measure attitude regarding specific commodities and consumption trends and the identification of consumer groups based on behavior, attitudes, and purchasing habits.

  • Research the role of commodities in a nutritious diet that can improve health and reduce the risk of chronic disease.

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