Agriculture officials in Alabama have lobbied to turn Cuba into a market for the state’s poultry products for years, but President Donald Trump’s recent policy change with the island jeopardizes that opening.
Alabama Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan said exports to Cuba, which receives millions of tons of poultry every month from the state, could be impacted by the president’s restrictive policy change.
“Particularly with Raul Castro stepping down in early ‘18, we’re going to be anxious to see what the Cuban government’s policy is going to be,” McMillan told the press. “If something undesirable happens there, that would be on the Cuba side. We hope that doesn’t happen.”
Last month, Trump announced his long-awaited changes to Obama-era policies on Cuba. He imposed new limitations on U.S. travelers to the island and banned business dealings with enterprises linked to the Cuban military conglomerate, which controls a large portion of the island nation’s economy.
Trump cited the Cuban government’s human rights violations as justification for the changes. He said the U.S. would consider lifting those and other restrictions only after the Cuban government made a series of internal changes, including holding free elections, allowing freedom of assembly, and freeing political prisoners.
“The Cuba people have long suffered under a Communist regime that suppresses their legitimate aspirations for freedom and prosperity and fails to respect their essential human dignity,” Trump’s directive said. “In Cuba, dissidents and peaceful protesters are arbitrarily detained and held in terrible prison conditions. Violence and intimidation against dissidents occurs with impunity.”
The Cuban government denounced the new measures as “hostile rhetoric,” and said any attempt at changing the island nation’s political system “shall be doomed to failure.”
According to McMillan, the Port of Mobile ships 7 million tons of poultry to Cuba every month. If Trump’s new regulations disrupt that market, Cuba has other options for agricultural imports, including Canada, South America, and Mexico.
“They have choices. Some of those choices may be more expensive. That may be our advantage,” McMillan said, pointing out that there are human rights violations in China but no one is cutting off trade there. “The bottom line, I think, is that the best way to foment change down there is to continue trade with them.”
Congress passed a bill allowing U.S. businesses to send a limited amount of agricultural exports to Cuba in 2000, but only if the products are paid for in cash. Former President Obama’s financial policy with the island helped to further ease business relations.
“We’ve been trading with them for some time,” Johnny Adams, executive director of the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association, told news sources. “We’re not allowed to give them credit. They have to pay us up front through a third party. Normalizing trade would make it a lot easier.”
Like McMillan, Adams sees Cuba as a promising market that is just 90 miles away.
“Hopefully, everyone can sit down and work things out between the two countries. We’ve enjoyed our relationship with the Cuban people and would like to see it get better.”