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Illinois soybean farmers welcome Cuba potential

BLOOMINGTON  – The Illinois Soybean Growers says it welcomes the president’s effort to normalize relations and open up business opportunities with Cuba.

“This is a very good opportunity for Illinois soybean farmers and the businesses who use our beans,” said ISG Chairman Bill Raben, a soybean farmer from Ridgway, Ill. “This opens a lot of doors for both soybean and meat exports. We’re excited about exploring future trade opportunities with Cuba.”

ISG has been working to increase soybean and ag exports to Cuba for several years. Efforts include visiting Cuba and meeting with top officials four times since 2012, along with educating Illinois legislative and business leaders about the economic value of trade with Cuba.

For example, in November 2014, ISG joined the Illinois Cuba Working Group at the Havana International Fair to grow the trade relationship between the U.S. and Cuba.
The goal was to increase trade relations and conduct business that would increase exports of agricultural products and food from Illinois to Cuba.

“While in Cuba we met with a wide variety of people from buyers to diplomats to everyday Cubans,” says Mark Albertson, ISG’s director of strategic market development. “Everyone is interested in improving diplomatic relations with the United States. The U.S. embargo is on their mind every day because it affects Cubans’ quality of life.”

According to today’s announcement, the President is allowing expanded commercial sales and exports of goods and services to Cuba, including agricultural equipment for small farmers; allowing greater business training; and permitting greater communications hardware and services to go to the island. Other changes permit U.S. and Cuban banks to build relationships and travelers to use credit and debit cards.

The U.S. exported more than $108 million in soybeans and soybean meal to Cuba in 2013.

“The U.S. was once the dominant supplier of all Cuba’s soy products until Brazil moved in during 2011 and 2012, and Argentina in 2013. We want to get that business back,” says John Longley, soybean farmer from Aledo, Ill., and ISG director. “Cuba relies solely on foreign suppliers for soybeans, so the U.S. and specifically Illinois- the country’s No. 1 soybean-producing state- has a big opportunity to gain business that will boost our economy.”

Illinois Soybean Growers is a membership organization serving more than 45,000 Illinois soybean growers. ISG provides advocacy in Springfield and Washington, D.C., to promote the interests of soybean farmers, and research, promotion and education programs that enhance soybean production and use.

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