The congressional debate over the proposed bill that would fund agricultural exports to Cuba may come to an end soon because of a new addition to the legislature: a two percent fee on food products sold to Cuba that would pay for properties confiscated by the island’s government.
“We know there are a significant number of Cuban Americans who are aggrieved because they had their properties thieved years ago in the revolution,” said Arkansas Rep. Rick Crawford, who sponsored the bill.
“We have come out with a vehicle by which they actually receive compensation, which is a key component of the legislation,” Crawford said. “Every transaction will have a 2% excise fee that would be collected and administered to certified claimants through the Treasury Department.”
“The 2% user fee functions like an excise tax on the total sale, and it is paid by the seller of the agricultural product,” a staffer from Crawford’s office clarified. There are reportedly over 6,000 certified property claims from U.S. citizens and companies worth almost $8 billion, but there are also thousands of claims that are not certified.
The bill, called the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, proposes to remove restrictions on the financing of exports of agricultural products to the island nation. It is currently legal to export agricultural products, but they can only be paid for in cash because it is not possible to extend credit to Cuba. Crawford’s bill would authorize the extension of private credit.
Crawford has reportedly been working together with Cuban-American representatives on the bill. A spokesperson from the office of Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who is involved in the negotiations, said “there is no deal yet,” The Miami Herald reports.
“We are trying to keep their perspective in mind and trying to be as respectful to their sensibilities as possible and do something that is meaningful not only for the American farmers but also to Cuban Americans, too, who are obviously personally involved in this issue,” Crawford said. “We think we have arrived at a very elegant solutions for both problems.”
The Cuba Agricultural Exports Act was introduced by Crawford in January. The first version did not include the two percent fee, but it did prohibit agricultural investments by companies with ties to the communist government.
The idea that a percentage of the money paid for food imports will compensate companies and citizens whose properties were seized will probably not be welcomed by the Castro government, but the Arkansas representative said he is not attempting to write a bill that will “satisfy the Cuban regime.”
The bill is strongly supported by the agricultural sector, which has been lobbying Congress for access to the Cuban market for years now. Cuba imports 80 percent of its food, making it a desirable market for U.S. products.
Experts have questioned whether adding a provision that allows private credit would be lucrative to the Cuban government when it already receives credit from other countries like Vietnam, which sells the island rice. Crawford said “that’s the beauty of the free market” and that U.S. corporations have more accessible products that are of a better quality.