Boosting exports to Cuba, creating jobs in Minnesota

By Amy Klobuchar
Guest Columnist

Earlier this year, I visited Cuba to talk with agriculture and export officials about ways to open up new economic opportunities for businesses and farmers in Minnesota.

More than anything else on the trip, I was struck by the enthusiasm of everyday Cubans for renewed ties with the United States. Everywhere I went I saw one date: Dec. 17, 2014 – the day our two countries agreed to start opening up relations. It’s just another day on the calendar for most Americans, but for Cubans, that day – and the hope it has inspired – is one they will always remember.

For fifty years, our country has maintained a trade embargo against Cuba that has failed by every measure. It has not brought change to Cuba. It has not improved the lives of the Cuban people. And it has constrained opportunities for Minnesota businesses to grow and create jobs by restricting commerce to 11 million people who live just 90 miles off of our shores.

If you’ve tried the same approach for fifty years and it hasn’t worked, it’s probably time to change course.

Today, our country has a historic opportunity to do just that – and it’s a moment we must seize. We have a chance to shift from a policy of isolation to a policy that allows Americans to engage the Cuban people through commerce and travel. That process is already underway, but more work remains to fully bring our relationship with Cuba into the 21st century.

That’s why I’ve introduced major bipartisan legislation called the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act, which would lift the trade embargo once and for all and knock down the legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba. The bill will also help create new opportunities for businesses and farmers by boosting U.S. exports and allowing Cubans greater access to American products.

Ultimately, I believe that passing my legislation and lifting the trade embargo will help usher in a new era for exporters in Minnesota and across the country to access this important market that we have blocked for 50 years. And my bill builds on some of the steps our country has already taken to normalize ties with Cuba, which will provide a big boost to Minnesota. Through the humanitarian exception to the embargo, Minnesota exported about $20 million in agricultural products to Cuba in 2013. With the president’s recent action alone, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture estimates that exports could increase by another $20 million.

It’s also important to emphasize what my bill does not do. There are many outstanding issues between our two countries that must be dealt with, especially our concerns about the Cuban government’s repressive policies. That’s why my bill does not repeal provisions of current law that address human rights in Cuba or that allow individuals and businesses to pursue claims against the Cuban government for expropriated property.

Make no mistake: we already do business in Cuba. But unlike many other countries, we needlessly hamstring our own businesses seeking to export their products there. And the embargo prevents Cubans from obtaining food and other goods we take for granted in the United States. These travel and trade restrictions also come at a cost to our economy because they prevent our farmers, ranchers, and businesses from fully accessing a market that is so close to home and that needs high-quality food and other goods.

For too long, these opportunities have been closed to our businesses because of a failed and outdated embargo that hasn’t secured our interests. It’s time to turn the page. It’s time to build on the progress we’ve made and fully lift the restrictions that keep Minnesotans from competing for business in Cuba and creating jobs here at home.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is Minnesota’s senior senator and the author of bipartisan legislation to lift the trade embargo with Cuba. Reactions to this column — and to any commentary on these pages – are always welcome. Send to: [email protected]