January 8, 2015
Good afternoon. I am pleased to be here this afternoon at the launch of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba. I want to thank the National Press Club for hosting today's event, and welcome our distinguished guests, who are some of our nation's foremost leaders in advancing the interests of American agriculture at home and abroad.
Particularly as we look back at 2014, your efforts show. Farm and ranch exports topped $152.5 billion this fiscal year, a record high. The new Farm Bill has been implemented in record time and makes a strong investment in the tools and support American agriculture needs to continue to make economic gains.
And today, we are gathered together to discuss new opportunities for American agriculture to do business in a country just 90 miles from our border: Cuba.
The policy changes announced by the President in mid-December broke with a failed approach that had isolated us from the rest of the Hemisphere and isolated ordinary Cubans from the outside world. The President's changes are aimed at giving Cuban citizens new opportunities to gain greater control over their own lives. They also expanded opportunities for America's farmers and ranchers to sell goods in Cuba.
We are removing technical barriers between U.S. and Cuban companies and creating a more efficient, less burdensome opportunity for Cuba to buy U.S. agricultural products. These policy changes will help make our products far more price competitive, which will expand choices for Cuban shoppers at the grocery store and create a new customer base for America's farmers and ranchers.
Cuba imports about 80 percent of its food, which means that the economic potential for our producers is significant.
Historically, agricultural products have been one of the few goods allowed to be exported to Cuba under the longstanding U.S. embargo. Our producers have taken advantage of that opportunity to the extent that they were able, but have in recent years been less competitive compared to their foreign competitors, particularly the European Union.
The policy changes announced by the President are significant. He has done what he can to address some of the barriers to expanded agricultural exports to Cuba, but we still have legislative hurdles to cross. The President and this Administration look forward to engaging with Congress in an honest and serious debate about what we can do to promote positive change in Cuba.
That's where you come in. Throughout history, agriculture has served as a bridge to foster cooperation, understanding and the exchange of ideas among people. The founding members of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba have been engaged with Cuba for many years, hosting trade missions to Cuba and serving as ambassadors for the American brand of agriculture. I have no doubt that you will have an important role to play as these conversations continue and we expand our relationship with the Cuban people in the coming years.