Strange: A House Ag Hearing And No Mention Of Cuba; Despite USDA Seeking US$1.5 Million For FAS Staffing In Cuba

On 28 February 2017, the Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture of the Committee on Agriculture of the United States House of Representatives held a hearing relating to International Market Development.” [See media release below.]

What is extraordinary about this hearing is none of the witnesses mentioned the Republic of Cuba in their written statements despite the perception of generally bipartisan interest by members of the House of Representatives and private sector commercial/educational interests towards expanding the commercial landscape for agricultural commodities and food products to be exported from the United States to the Republic of Cuba. 

Since December 2001, under provisions of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Enhancement Act (TSREEA) of 2000, more than US$5.3 billion in agricultural commodities and food products have been exported from the United States to the Republic of Cuba on a cash basis as required by the TSREEA.  There have been numerous efforts in the United States Congress to make expansive changes to the TSREEA.

In 2016, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) requested an appropriation of US$1.5 million to provide payments for USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) staffing within the Embassy of the United States in Havana, Republic of Cuba.  The request was approved on 19 May 2016 by the United States Senate Committee on Appropriations; the request requires approval by the United States Senate and United States House of Representatives before becoming law.

USDA Media Notification

May 2016

With the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, USDA requires permanent in-country presence there to effectively carry out the USDA mission and advance U.S. agricultural and national security interests. On May 19, the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a fiscal 2017 appropriations bill that includes $1.5 million to support President Obama’s budget request for USDA staffing in Cuba.”

In 2017, FAS will conduct its activities and programs through offices in Washington, D.C. and at 94 overseas locations, including Cuba. The overseas offices represent and advocate for U.S. agricultural interests; provide reporting on agricultural policies, production, and trade for more than170 countries; assist U.S. exporters, trade groups, and State export marketing officials in their trade promotion efforts; and help to implement technical assistance and trade capacity building programs that contribute to increased food security. The Budget provides an appropriated funding level of $197 million for FAS activities in 2017, including increased funding for International Cooperative Administrative Support Services, opening an overseas post in Cuba, and pay costs, including for locally employed staff. Agriculture will play an important role as the U.S. and Cuba expand relations, acting as a bridge that can foster cooperation, understanding, and the exchange of ideas. USDA needs an in-country presence in Cuba to cultivate key relationships, gain firsthand knowledge of the country’s agricultural challenges and opportunities, and develop programs of mutual benefit to both countries.”

From The Hearing Media Release

Today, Rep. David Rouzer (NC-7), Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture, held a hearing to examine the international market development programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service. Members heard from a variety of witnesses in the agricultural industry who discussed the critical nature of these programs in increasing and enhancing access to overseas markets. The hearing was a continuation of the committee’s hearing series on the next farm bill.

“It is important that we recognize the overarching benefits that market development funding brings the U.S. agricultural industry as a whole—benefits to American farmers and small businesses that would not be otherwise achieved. These USDA programs continue to facilitate our farmers’ and ranchers’ efforts to reach new markets and have proven invaluable in helping to level the playing field within those global markets. We must continue to invest in these programs so demand for U.S. food and fiber continues to grow and American agriculture remains strong,” said Subcommittee Chairman Rouzer.

“Our competitors are outspending us on export promotion programs by a huge margin. Couple that with a host of countries who continue to employ trade distorting domestic policies with no regard to their WTO commitments, and it is easy to see why it is becoming harder and harder for our producers to compete on the global stage. International market development programs like the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development program are essential tools in helping to overcome such obstacles. I am impressed by the work made possible through these programs, and I look forward to ensuring they are being used as efficiently as possible to promote superior quality American agricultural products around the world,” said Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway.

Witness List:
Dr. Gary Williams, Professor of Agricultural Economics & Co-Director of the Food, Agribusiness and Consumer Economics Research Center, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
Mr. Joseph Steinkamp, Director, American Soybean Association, Evansville, IN; on behalf of the Coalition to Promote U.S. Agriculture Exports and the Agribusiness Coalition for Foreign Market Development
Mr. Tim Hamilton, Executive Director, Food Export-Midwest and Food Export-Northeast, Chicago, IL
Mr. Philip Seng, President & CEO, U.S. Meat Export Federation, Denver, CO
Mr. Dean Alanko, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Allegheny Wood Products, Petersburg, WV; on behalf of the Hardwood Federation
Mr. Paul Wenger, almond grower and President, California Farm Bureau, Sacramento, CA