Kansas senator hopes to lift embargo on Cuba to boost farmers

Bryan Lowry
McClatchy Washington Bureau via TNS
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jerry Moran, R-Kan., delivers opening remarks during the confirmation hearing for Denis McDonough to be secretary of Veterans Affairs, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 27.

WASHINGTON — Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran wants to lift the nation’s long-standing trade embargo on Cuba, a move that would open a potentially lucrative market for Kansas farmers and ranchers.

Moran, a Republican, has long favored relaxing restrictions on trade with the communist Caribbean country. But his advocacy gained little traction when former President Donald Trump’s administration took a hawkish stance on Cuba.

But with President Joe Biden in office and Democrats in control of both chambers of Congress, Moran is partnering with two Democrats, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, to revive the issue.

In announcing their legislation to lift the embargo, Moran argued the policy punishes U.S. businesses and empowers China.

“The unilateral trade embargo on Cuba blocks our own farmers, ranchers and manufacturers from selling into a market only 90 miles from our shoreline, while foreign competitors such as China benefit at our expense,” Moran said in a statement.

“This legislation will expand market opportunities for U.S. producers by allowing them to compete on a level playing field with other countries.”

The measure would repeal all current restrictions against conducting business with Cuba, including 1961 law which first authorized an embargo.

“Instead of looking to the future, U.S.-Cuba policy has been defined for far too long by conflicts of the past,” Klobuchar said.

“As we work to rebuild our economy following the pandemic, lifting the trade embargo will open the door to a large export market and create jobs in the U.S. It’s time to turn the page on the failed policy of isolation by passing our bipartisan legislation to end the embargo once and for all.”

The U.S. began allowing the sale of food and agricultural products to Cuba in the early 2000s under reforms enacted late in Bill Clinton’s presidency. These exports brought in more than $163 million last year, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

But economic restrictions remain in place. The senators pointed to analysis from U.S. Trade Commission that lifting the embargo would increased exports by 166% and bring in $800 million to the U.S. economy over five years with much of that money coming from exports of Kansas staples, such as wheat and soybeans.

“We applaud Sen. Moran’s work in offering legislation to lift the Cuba trade embargo,” said Kansas Farm Bureau President Rich Felts. “Having the opportunity to export Kansas staples like wheat, corn and soybeans with our Cuban neighbors would be a win for Kansas communities, the state and the nation.”

However, Moran’s proposal is likely to face opposition from a significant portion of the Republican Party.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, warned in December against thawing relations with Cuba in a guest column in The Miami Herald.

“If Biden were to recommit to the same Obama-era policies, we know far too well who would suffer: those who seek a freer, more democratic Cuba, including the island’s dissidents, political prisoners, artists and activists,” Rubio wrote.

Fellow Kansas Republican Mike Pompeo likely complicated Moran’s case when he added Cuba to the list of state sponsors of terrorism in January during his final nine days as secretary of state, reversing former President Barack Obama’s decision to remove the island nation from the list in 2015.

“With this action, we will once again hold Cuba’s government accountable and send a clear message: The Castro regime must end its support for international terrorism and subversion of U.S. justice,” Pompeo said at the time.