FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Contact: Chuck Lippstreu, Byrum & Fisk Communications, 517-242-5124

Ag leaders: Expanded trade with Cuba would grow exports, create Michigan jobs
 
LANSING – Recent announcements and policy actions by the Obama Administration represent a step in the right direction toward boosting trade opportunities for Michigan products, representatives of the Agricultural Leaders of Michigan (ALM) said Wednesday.
 
“Normalized trade relations with Cuba would be a very positive step forward for Michigan’s agriculture industry,” said Jim Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association. “Expanding trade with Cuba presents new opportunity to grow Michigan’s agriculture sector and create jobs in rural Michigan. As an industry, we appreciate those in the administration and in Congress who are working to establish new policy on Cuba.”
 
Under current sanctions, U.S. food and agriculture companies can legally export to Cuba.  However, financing restrictions limit the ability of the U.S. industry to competitively serve the market.  Foreign competitors such as Canada, Brazil, the European Union and Argentina are increasingly taking market share from U.S. industry because those countries do not face the same restrictions on financing. 
 
On Friday, January 16, the U.S. Department of Treasury enacted a number of policy changes, including allowing U.S. banks to open accounts and process credit/debit transactions in Cuba. Additionally, over the weekend, key U.S. Congressional leaders, including U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, traveled to Cuba for meetings with Cuban Government officials and others.
 
Michigan agriculture leaders emphasized on Wednesday’s call a need to end the current embargo and fully normalize trade relations with Cuba.
 
“We are always ready for opportunities to expand in a sustainable way to meet this growing need for milk products globally, and Cuba is no exception,” said Sheila Burkhardt, public affairs director of Michigan Milk Producers Association.  “We believe that Michigan can be a national and international leader in the milk industry. We have taken and continue taking steps to expand our capacity, and we welcome efforts to further expand trade with Cuba to boost demand for Michigan-made milk products.”
 
In recent years, Michigan’s agricultural exports have climbed steadily. The state exported a record $3.2 billion worth of products in 2012, up from less than $1 billion a decade earlier, according to data from the USDA Economic Research Service. Markets around the world are showing additional demand for Michigan-made products, and expanded trade with Cuba would add to that opportunity. ALM leaders said Cuba is a logical market for U.S. food and agriculture exports with 11 million consuming citizens only 90 miles off the coast of the United States.
 
“Michigan agriculture continues to be a real success story when it comes to exports, and we produce multiple crops and commodities that could potentially be exported to Cuba,” said Dave Armstrong, CEO of East Lansing-based GreenStone Farm Credit Services. “We’re supportive of efforts by the administration and leaders in Congress to rethink policy toward Cuba and work toward normalized trade relations. This would represent an important opportunity for Michigan agriculture, and one that we’re confident producers and agri-businesses are ready to meet.”
 
Agricultural Leaders of Michigan is a coalition of agricultural, commodity and agri-business leaders committed to promoting Michigan agriculture, participating in the ongoing dialogue about issues affecting our state, and harnessing agriculture’s power and potential to further grow Michigan’s economy. Learn more at www.agleadersmi.com.