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By Karl Plume
CHICAGO, Dec 17 (Reuters) - The normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba is an “important opportunity” for U.S. agriculture that will make exports of U.S. farm goods cheaper, easier and less time consuming for shippers, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Wednesday.
President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday that the United States plans to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba more than 50 years after they were severed, a major policy shift after decades of hostile ties with the communist-ruled island.
U.S. law exempted food products from an embargo on U.S. trade with the Cuba, but cumbersome rules on how transactions were executed made transactions difficult and costly, hurdles the U.S. policy shift will eliminate.
Though U.S. agricultural trade with Cuba was allowed, payment was required in advance and rules stated that money must be routed through third parties to avoid direct contact between U.S. and Cuban banks.
“The policy change is that now payment can be made while goods are in transit, which is the normal course of business, and no longer does the money need to be routed through a third party,” Vilsack told reporters on the sidelines of the a U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade meeting.
“This removes a friction that makes it easier, less expensive and less time consuming to do business for American agricultural products.”
In addition, the United States enacted policy changes governing sales of farm equipment to Cuba, which would benefit U.S. manufacturers.
Vilsack would not speculate on which farm products could benefit the most and was unsure how lucrative the market could ultimately be for U.S. agricultural products.
“There’s no comparable market in the sense that you’re dealing with a fairly significant set of consumers 90 miles offshore,” he said.
He had also not analyzed how the normalization of relations would impact imports of Cuban agricultural products such as sugar. (Editing by Tom Brown)