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Illinois groups praise opening of embassies with Cuba

From Illinois Business Journal news services

The Illinois Soybean Growers and other business groups say they are ready to take advantage of the newly announced U.S.-Cuba agreement to open embassies.

Today, President Barack Obama announce plans to reopen Cuban and U.S. embassies in Washington, D.C., and Havana. The latest announcement comes after Cuba recently was formally removed from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.

“The establishment of embassies combined with the other recent changes in U.S.-Cuba relations helps us inch closer to a more business-friendly atmosphere for getting things done in Cuba,” said Mike Levin, ISG director of issues management and analysis, who visited Cuba in November 2014.

Since 2012, more than a dozen ISG farmer-leaders and staff have visited Cuba five times, with a sixth visit planned for November to promote Illinois’ quality soy at the annual international trade show.

“Better trade relations lead to better diplomatic relations, which in turn lead to even better trade relations,” said Mark Albertson, ISG director of strategic market development, who visited Cuba in March. “Achieving fully-functional embassies is a long overdue step that will give a boost to the improving business climate between our countries.”

Each policy step forward makes it easier for Illinois soybean farmers and businesses to trade products between the U.S. and Cuba. It also promotes positive relationships between the two countries.

ISG has been leading efforts to increase soybean and ag exports to Cuba. Efforts include visiting Cuba and meeting with top officials, along with educating Illinois legislative and business leaders about the economic value of trade with Cuba. Recent studies also indicate that agricultural exports could increase if trade barriers are lifted and regulations relaxed, added Albertson.
Soy is Cuba’s second largest import from the United States, behind chicken, a top soybean consumer, according to the United State Department of Agriculture. In 2014, U.S. ag exports to Cuba were $287 million, with soy valued at nearly $98 million. In 2008, ag exports were $685 million, with about half that value coming from corn and soybeans.

Illinois Soybean Growers is a membership organization serving more than 43,000 Illinois soybean growers.

U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, also spoke highly of the potential from the new agreement.

“Opening our embassy in Havana will begin to open Cuba to the value of our democracy,” said Durbin. “Our foreign policy over the last 50 years in Cuba has failed to end the Castro dictatorship. The power of new ideas and the force of an open economy and an open society will succeed.”

In January, Durbin participated in the first congressional delegation visit to Cuba since the United States announced its change of policy. After returning, he joined with a bipartisan group of Senators to introduce the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015 which would end restrictions in laws enacted in 1996 and 2000 on travel by American citizens and legal residents to Cuba—restrictions that do not exist for travel by Americans to any other country in the world. The bill would also end restrictions on transactions related to travel, such as banking transactions.

Durbin also joined a bipartisan group of Senators to introduce the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act, which would eliminate the legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba, repealing the 1961 authorization for establishing the trade embargo and amending subsequent laws and restrictive statutes. The bill would pave the way for new economic opportunities for American businesses and farmers by boosting US exports and allow Cubans greater access to American goods.

This spring, Durbin joined another bipartisan group of Senators to introduce the Cuba Digital and Telecommunications Advancement Act – or Cuba DATA Act – that would enable U.S. telecommunications and Internet companies to provide their services and devices in Cuba. Cuba is one of the least wired countries in the western hemisphere, leaving many Cubans unable to access the Internet for things like business development, political discourse and personal communications.

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