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Illinois Cuba Working Group Exploring Office in Cuba Following Bi-Partisan Delegation Trip

The Illinois Cuba Working Group (ICWG) continues to open doors for agricultural trade and establish reciprocal commercial relations between the U.S. and Cuba. This week the group led a high-level, bi-partisan delegation visit to Cuba that included U.S. Representatives Rodney Davis (R, IL-13) and Cheri Bustos (D, IL-17), to explore next steps in opening trade between the two countries, including a permanent space where Illinois agricultural organizations can conduct business.

“Illinois agriculture has great potential in Cuba and we can’t maximize it because of the embargo,” says Paul Johnson, executive director of ICWG. “Illinois soybean and corn exports have dropped from $66 million in 2008 to $24 million last year. We can’t afford to lose out on these opportunities and having an office where we can conduct direct business is essential.”

Representatives from the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, Illinois Soybean Growers, The Maschoffs, AGCO, ADM, Illinois Farm Bureau and University of Illinois also joined the group.

During the Oct. 11 to 14 visit, delegates met with representatives from the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Investment and Economic Cooperation, Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cuban Ministry of Agriculture, U.S Embassy, Alimport and business leaders. They also toured farms, cooperatives and local private markets.

“The goal of this mission was to continue opening up agricultural trade with Cuba, which creates jobs and opportunities for the state of Illinois,” says Daryl Cates, chairman of the Illinois Soybean Growers.

Although the U.S. is currently allowed to export agricultural products to Cuba, the embargo is causing Illinois to lose market share to South American and other competitors, Johnson said.

With the exception of sugar and pork, domestic consumption of most major agricultural commodities exceeds production in Cuba.

ICWG strives to form strategic relationships in order to amend the Trade Sanction and Reform Act in a way that would:

Establish an agricultural trade office in Cuba as a show of commitment and to facilitate and assist with communication and market entry.
Allow U.S. export promotion and assistance to U.S. agricultural commodities going to Cuba.
Permit U.S. food companies the ability to negotiate trade terms with Cuba.

The Illinois Cuba Working Group (ICWG) was formed at the request of the Illinois General Assembly. The organization grew out of an initiative that began in 1999 when Illinois was the first state to travel to Cuba during the embargo. Through the collaboration of Illinois political, business and community support, Congress passed the Trade Sanctions and Reform Act in 2001. That act permitted the sale of agricultural products, and represented the first major effort to remove the embargo and barriers to normalized trade relations with Cuba. For details, visit illinoiscuba.org.

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For more information, contact:

Paul Johnson
Illinois Cuba Working Group Executive Director
illinoiscuba@gmail.com 
773-814-2493