Governor Terry McAuliffe has announced that Virginia is now the top state in the nation for agricultural and forestry exports to Cuba. With a total of $41.6 million, Virginia agricultural exports to Cuba increased by more than 67 percent last year surpassing Louisiana, Georgia, Florida and Alabama for the top position. Virginia exports, mostly soybeans and soybean meal, represent 28 percent of Cuba’s total agricultural imports from the U.S., which totaled $148.5 million in 2015. Virginia was the only state to see an increase in exports to Cuba in 2015.
Speaking about the announcement, Governor McAuliffe stated, “Virginia has been a leader in the development of relations with Cuba since federal law allowed for the export of foods and agricultural commodities to the country. I am pleased that our efforts to foster mutually beneficial exchange with Cuba have led to increased agricultural exports for our Virginia producers. During the mission in January, we continued these efforts to expand current agricultural export business, achieve new agricultural exports, and open the doors to future collaboration between Virginia Commonwealth University, the Port of Virginia and their Cuban counterparts.”
During January’s historic marketing and collaboration mission to Cuba, Governor McAuliffe had several discussions with senior government officials, including a meeting with His Excellency Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz, Minister of the Ministry for Foreign Trade and Investment (MINCEX). MINCEX is the Cuban agency responsible for promoting foreign trade and commercial transactions between Cuban enterprises and business entities in other countries. The agency develops and proposes policies, conducts trade negotiations with other countries and signs agreements to further economic development. Following the Governor’s invitation, Minister Malmierca agreed to visit Virginia, the first visit to the Commonwealth by a Cuban government official of his ranking in more than 50 years.
“Today’s announcement is a big win for Virginia’s agribusinesses and producers doing business with Cuba, which has led to more than $423 million in agricultural exports to the country over the past decade,” commented Secretary Haymore. “Minister Malmierca’s visit represents another historic moment for Virginia – Cuba relations and we are honored to host him in the Commonwealth to highlight the great assets we talk about every time we travel to Havana. Like the Governor, I’m hopeful that Virginia agribusiness will continue to serve as a catalyst for more positive change and create new opportunities for other sectors of the Virginia economy as the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba evolves to normalization.”
Since the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA) was passed, limited sales of food and agricultural products have been allowed to Cuba. Recently, the U.S. reestablished official diplomatic ties with Cuba. As bilateral relations continue to improve, Governor McAuliffe tasked Virginia state agencies to explore new commercial opportunities with Cuba, covering a variety of sectors in preparation for the embargo to be fully lifted.
Following his election in November 2013, Governor McAuliffe has worked to expand Virginia’s relationship with Cuba and to promote ending the U.S. embargo against Cuba. In January 2015, Cuba’s top diplomat in the U.S., then Chief of Mission, José R. Cabañas, was invited to be the keynote speaker at the Governor’s Conference on Agricultural Trade during a day-long visit to Richmond arranged by the McAuliffe administration; the visit was Cabañas’ first U.S. visit beyond Washington, D.C. Cabañas was named formally as Cuban Ambassador to the United States in September 2015.
Although U.S. food and agriculture companies can legally export to Cuba under current sanctions, financing restrictions imposed by the embargo, which went into effect in 1962, still limit the ability of Virginia companies to competitively serve the Cuban market to the fullest extent possible. Travel restrictions also constrain Americans’ ability to freely travel to Cuba and business collaboration in certain sectors, such as tourism and basic infrastructure investment, remain illegal. There are currently several bills in Congress which would eliminate or further ease embargo restrictions against Cuba.
During the visit to Havana, Governor McAuliffe reiterated his position that Congress should take action to address these impediments to business. Governor McAuliffe commented, “Ending the embargo will create jobs here at home. From rural Virginia to our world-class ports, lifting these arcane trade and travel restrictions will create new employment and economic opportunities for Virginia companies. It will also open new opportunities for Cuban products to be imported to the United States. If we can do business with other countries from around the world, we ought to be able to freely conduct business with a country that’s our next door neighbor”.
In October 2015, Governor McAuliffe was joined by eight other governors in a bi-partisan letterto the leaders of Congress calling for an end to the remaining trade and travel restrictions. Governor McAuliffe reiterated that his administration will continue to press for changes to federal law which will allow for free and open bilateral trade and travel between the U.S. and Cuba.