U.S. Rice Producers Association lauds Obama’s announcement



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January 14, 2011

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USRPA Lauds Obama Administration for Promoting Right to Travel


Today the Obama Administration made a brave move to recognize the right of U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba.  It is reported that President Obama will loosen restrictions on academic, religious and cultural groups that were adopted under President George W. Bush, and return to “people to people” travel policies similar to those followed under President Bill Clinton.

These are great first steps in healing the self-inflicted wound of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, but U.S. laws regarding Cuba need to change further.  President Obama does not actually have the authority to lift the entire travel ban – only Congress does.  That’s because the travel ban is codified in law, with 13 select categories of travelers – like Cuban Americans – exempt from the ban.  The President only has authority to ease restrictions within those 13 categories.  By taking this action, the administration has begun the job.  Only Congress can finish it.  The President’s own U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Ron Kirk, told a Congressional Committee last August that Cuba represents “an extraordinary opportunity for our farmers and ranchers,” but that the administration is waiting for “some direction from Congress.”

H.R. 4645, which was reported favorably by the House Agriculture Committee in 2010, would have fulfilled the need to do more on Cuba, but the measure died last year.  Such legislation would create exponential growth for U.S. exports to the Cuban market by lifting the requirement for Cuba to pay for agricultural goods through third-country banks. It would also remove the travel ban, which would increase demand for agricultural products and the resources Cubans could use to pay for them.

In 2009, the U.S. International Trade Commission estimated that U.S. exports to Cuba could increase by nearly $500 million if restrictions on the transactions and the U.S. ban on travel were lifted.  A March 2010 study by Texas A&M University estimated that passage of H.R.4645 would result in 6,000 new jobs, over $360 million in new U.S. exports to Cuba, and over $1 billion in associated economic output in associated sectors.  According to a 2002 Brattle Group study, lifting the U.S. travel ban would add thousands of new jobs and boost revenues for US airlines and the travel industry by over $1.1 billion.

In June 2010, 74 of Cuba’s most noted human rights and democracy activists opined in an open letter to Congress that the benefits to the Cuban people of such reforms would outweigh any benefits to the Cuban government.  They also said, “The supportive presence of American citizens, their direct help, and the many opportunities for exchange . . . would not be an abandonment of Cuban civil society but rather a force to strengthen it. Similarly, to further facilitate the sale of agricultural products would help alleviate the food shortages we now suffer.”

USRPA applauds the Obama Administration for promoting the rights of Americans to travel to Cuba.  USRPA urges Congress and the Administration to enact broader reforms to restore the rights of American citizens to travel and sell food to our Cuban neighbors.

The US Rice Producers Association, representing rice farmers in Mississippi, Missouri, Texas, California, Arkansas and Louisiana, is the only organization solely representing the views of U.S. rice farmers.

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