U.S. Congressman James Comer says he is "disappointed" in President Donald Trump's new restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba. But, he said he is encouraged to see American agriculture as a priority for future U.S-Cuba engagement.
Trump said on Friday he is scaling back engagement with the island nation enacted in the Obama administration.
The White House policy channels economic activity away from the Cuban military, which has wide-ranging control over the island. The policy pressures the Cuban government to grant more freedoms to private enterprise. The rule also limits individual travel.
Kentucky's First District Congressman and former ag commissioner James Comer has lobbied for opening doors to trade with Cuba. He is a cosponsor of two House bills involving Cuba. HR 525 modifies the prohibition of assistance and financing for ag exports (some limited ag trade is currently possible). HR 442 broadly lifts the trade embargo. Congress maintains control over economic sanctions.
Comer attended a congressional ag trade mission to Cuba in March. He has said Cuba is no threat to American agriculture and could bolster Kentucky's export market. He has envisioned Kentucky being a leading exporter to the country in poultry, soy, wheat and corn. The World Food Programme says Cuba imports up to 80% of its food. Comer has said it is a "no brainer" for the U.S. to be included in their imports. Kentucky Poultry Federation executive director Jamie Guffey has urged opening foreign trade pathways with Cuba and other countries.
He has said his party is on the "wrong side of history" on this issue with the main opposition being Cuban-American members of Congress like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
In a statement, Comer said he while he is disappointed in the new policies, he appreciates the Trump Administration's efforts to include members of the ag industry in U.S.-Cuban relations moving forward and says it's crucial to develop new markets for U.S. farmers and ag products.
World Trade Center Kentucky has been involved in finding partnership opportunities with the island nation for agriculture trade. The Kentucky Institute for International Studies (KIIS) program has also expressed interest in opportunities for students.
The Kentucky congressman has supported Trump renegotiating trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and NAFTA, but cautioned him to tread lightly on these matters so as not to start 'trade wars.'
Congressman Comer's Full Statement:
“Over the past several months, I have had the opportunity to meet with officials at the White House to share my perspective on the potential benefits of expanding U.S. agricultural trade with Cuba and lifting the economic embargo. While I am disappointed in the outcome today, I do appreciate the Trump Administration’s efforts to include voices from the agricultural community in this process and I was encouraged to see the President identify American agriculture as one of the top priorities for U.S-Cuban engagement going forward. Now more than ever, it is critical that we continue to work together to develop new markets for U.S. farmers and agricultural products.”