Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota Tina Smith is the first high-ranking U.S. administration figure to visit Cuba after President Donald Trump’s announcement of change of policy toward the island.
Smith, who has been in this post since January 2015, is traveling at the head of a bipartisan delegation that includes politicians, businesspeople and members of agricultural institutions with the intention of exploring commercial opportunities, especially in the agricultural sector.
In a press release the lieutenant governor said that “Accessing new markets in Cuba is a tremendous opportunity for Minnesota agriculture producers.” She mentioned that the island imports every year approximately 80 percent of its food and agricultural products, including 20 million dollars’ worth from Minnesota.
In her opinion, the commercial mission she is heading “will lead to new opportunities and continued economic growth for Minnesotans.”
The visit, considered “historic” by the lieutenant governor’s office, began this Monday and includes meetings in the Ministries of Agriculture and Foreign Affairs of Cuba. Moreover, Smith and her companions will visit agricultural cooperatives, markets and the island’s Institute of Animal Sciences, before returning home next Friday, barely a week after Trump’s speech in Miami.
The delegation includes, among others, State Senator Julie Rosen, Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson, Corn Growers Association President Harold Wolle Jr., and Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap.
“Minnesota farmers produce healthy, high quality food and agricultural products. We are looking forward to sharing our products and expertise with the people of Cuba,” Paap said about the trip.
Meanwhile Evan Berquist, an attorney with Cozen O’Connor, said that the island is “a significant and expanding market for Minnesota companies,” and highlighted that “This mission is particularly timely, given all the policy changes taking place in Cuba and the U.S.”
According to Senator Amy Klobuchar, “doing business with Cuba means more jobs for Minnesota and is good for the country.” In 2015 she presented a bill to allow U.S. farmers to trade freely with the island and together with Congressman Tom Emmer she is leading the bipartisan efforts to modernize relations between the two countries.
After Trump’s announcements about relations with the island, Klobuchar called for “expanding engagement with Cuba, not rolling back the progress that has been made over the last few years.”
Located to the north of the United States, Minnesota is the fourth largest agricultural exporter in the country. Corn, soybeans and their byproducts, animal feed, and dairy accounted for 70 percent of the exports, more than tripling since 2000.
Cuba annually imports nearly two billion dollars in food and agricultural products, which is why it is an appetizing market for producers throughout the United States. U.S. farmers currently can’t sell their products to the island, but transactions are legally conditioned by the payment in cash requisite, which in the opinion of Republican Congressman Rick Crawford is really an impediment for this market to fully reach its potential.
Crawford is promoting a bill to favor agricultural exports to the island which has the promised backing of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. His proposed bill would include a two-percent fee on the sales to Cuba to pay those claiming compensation for properties confiscated by the Cuban government since 1959.