Big Agra Descends on Cuba to Spread GMOs

from startribune.com:: A delegation of 75 top U.S. agriculture leaders organized by Minnetonka-based Cargill
Inc. will arrive in Cuba this weekend on a trade mission to explore the
potential for increased business between the two countries.

Leaders
said the trip will be a “learning journey” to understand what Cuba may
need from U.S. farms, including corn, soybeans and rice, and what
products the United States might receive from Cuba if less restrictive
trade policies are adopted by both countries.




“It’s
really about just having a good exchange with them on the state of the
agricultural economy in Cuba,” said Devry Boughner Vorwerk, director of
international business relations at Cargill, which has taken a lead in
lobbying Congress to lift the trade embargo with Cuba.

Vorwerk
and others started the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba early this
year, weeks after President Obama announced he would pursue normal trade and diplomatic ­relations with Cuba following more than 50 years of
restrictions.

The
trip will begin with an orientation on Sunday, and a set of meetings
with Cuban government import officials and others on Monday. The
delegation will split into six smaller groups on Tuesday to visit Cuban
farmers and agricultural cooperatives, Vorwerk said, to learn about
their production capabilities, ­challenges and innovations. Wednesday
will be a wrap-up day that includes discussions of the “larger issues”
ahead. [emphasis added]

The
delegation includes two former U.S. agriculture secretaries, the
governor of Missouri and leaders of several national crop, livestock and
export associations.

Kevin
Paap, a corn and soybean farmer in southern Minnesota’s Blue Earth
County and president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau, said his organization
has long urged normalized trade and travel between the U.S. and Cuba —
and Minnesota could benefit from both.

Cuba
is a small market with about 11 million people, he said, but Cubans
need grain, agricultural technology and such livestock products as
chicken and turkey.

“Any
time you’ve got somebody that’s only 90 miles away and imports 80
percent of its food, they’re definitely a potential customer,” Paap
said. “But it will take a while for Cuba to get in that position to be
able to buy those products as their economy improves, and there’s going
to be some challenges.”

Cumbersome rules

Cuba
has received U.S. agricultural exports on a limited basis since 2001,
under a complicated payment system that requires prepaid cash or letters
of credit handled by banks in third countries.

Minnesota
exported about $26 million in ag products to Cuba in 2012, and an
estimated $20 million in 2013, mainly in corn, soybeans and soybean
meal
, according to state agriculture officials.

Dave
Frederickson, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture,
said exports from the state to Cuba could grow to $46 million under some
projections — not anywhere close to the trade volumes with Canada,
Mexico or China, he said, but a significant bump nonetheless.

“Obviously
it’s not going to happen overnight, but I think we’re seeing this rush
to get to Cuba because everyone wants to be first through the door,”
Frederickson said. “They want to make that personal connection.”

A
Minnesota legislative committee is scheduled to discuss a bill Tuesday
that would provide $100,000 over the next two years to help the state ag
department identify and communicate “existing and emerging
opportunities” in Cuba for farmers and food processors.

Cuban brand

Vorwerk said an increase in trade with Cuba would not be one-way, and it would not involve only commodities.

“It would also be innovations, technology and services,” she said. “There’s a lot that we could bring.”

What Cuba could offer is less clear, she said, and that’s part of what the delegation hopes to learn.

“We’ve
heard and understood that Cuba has innovations in the livestock area,
like animal health,” she said. “We’re interested in learning about
that.”

Cuba
is also known for its organic farms, and a Cuban brand for organic
honey, fruits or vegetables might be attractive to U.S. consumers,
­Vorwerk said.

“Depending
on whether they can get their yields up enough to actually export, they
could have a market for some of these higher ­margin products in the
United States,” she said.

Vorwerk
said that fact-finding trips and people-to-people exchanges are
important, but translating that to commercial trade deals will be
difficult without ending the 54-year-old trade embargo and easing other
restrictions.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar,
D-Minn., introduced the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act two weeks ago,
and ­Vorwerk is optimistic that Congress will take up the measure this
year. With Cubans paying high prices for rice imported from Vietnam and
other food from Brazil, she said, it should be a “no-brainer” for the
United States to lift its ­ineffective trade embargo.

“If
the embargo did not exist, and the financing restrictions didn’t exist,
we’d be shipping more there,” Vorwerk said. “Why are the Brazilian
companies getting the benefit instead of our ag groups?”