WASHINGTON – Cuba wants to hold a dialogue “between farmers” with the United States to increase bilateral cooperation, although “credit limitations” imposed by the U.S. trade embargo are still an obstacle to that, the island’s agricultural minister, Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero, said in Washington on Thursday.
“The most practical way to stimulate cooperation is the language of farmers,” said Rodriguez Rollero at an event at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The Cuban minister said that one of the problems is “the difficulty in accessing credit facilities” when doing business with the United States, citing as an example the fact that Cuba must pay in advance for all its purchases.
On the other hand, Rodriguez Rollero emphasized the need for Cuba to raise its farm output significantly because of the expected increased tourist flow, as highlighted by the recent arrival of the first cruise ship sailing from Florida to the island in more than 50 years.
“We import $2 billion worth of food, but we want to produce at least 50 percent,” he said in a chat with former U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who is of Cuban origin.
Specifically, he said that the most promising sectors for cooperation are tobacco, apiculture and organic agriculture.
Rodriguez Rollero’s trip comes at the invitation of U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who will accompany the Cuban official on Friday morning to his home state of Iowa, the largest producer of corn, soybeans and eggs in the United States.
In 2015, U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba totaled $170 million, with chicken making up almost half and the rest consisting of soybeans, soy derivatives such as soy meal or soy oil and rice, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.
Since the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, the government of Barack Obama has adopted assorted measures to alleviate the trade embargo on the communist island that has been in place since 1962, something that can only be done fully by Congress, which is currently controlled by the Republicans, who are firmly opposed to lifting it.