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Rick Crawford ‘Very Encouraged’ After Cuba Trip

4 min read

From April 6-9, U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., and U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La., traveled to Cuba to gain a better understanding of the island country’s people, culture, politics and challenges.

“The nation of Cuba is on the cusp of some pretty significant change — socially, culturally, economically, politically and otherwise,” Crawford said.

The four-day trip gave the congressmen time to meet with ministry commerce and agricultural officials as well as visit the agricultural college.

Crawford said there are significant opportunities for Arkansas to take advantage of in Cuba, particularly in the rice and poultry sectors. He said Cubans eat rice three meals a day but can’t produce enough on their own to feed the population. As the No. 1 rice producing state in the U.S., Arkansas can take advantage of that, he said.

Crawford, along with fellow Arkansas Republican U.S. Sen. John Boozman, is sponsoring legislation that would make it easier for U.S. businesses to sell their goods to Cuba. Arkansas Business talked to Crawford on Monday about his trip. His responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Arkansas Business: What stood out to you during the trip?

Rick Crawford: I think for me the thing that got my attention the most was a farmer’s market that they developed there. It is very interesting to see what they have going in terms a model for capitalism. They’re trying to reinvent the wheel. They’re 55 years removed from capitalism, as we know it, and they’ve established this farmer’s market less than two years ago to allow farmers to come to the marketplace and sell their products at the wholesale level to restaurants and other institutions like that, and it’s just phenomenal to see. 

The thing about it is that they’re asking for help. They want ideas and, “How do we make this work better,” and “What do we need to do to make it more efficient,” and so on. They recognize that they’re on the front end of something that could turn into something even better and be a better tool to serve the folks in Cuba. 

I was very impressed with that and seeing everything that’s taken place with regard to social and cultural and political change. I was very encouraged.

AB: Why is important for officials to visit Cuba?

RC: I think it is important that more people that get eyes on the country and look at it through the current eyes opposed to the abstract concept of the Cold War relationship that we have had with Cuba. 

I can tell you about it all day long and it might not change your mind, but if you go down and see it for yourself, I think that has the greatest chance of actually changing your opinion. And rather than me sell you something based on my perceptions, I would encourage people to go see it for yourselves.

Are my perceptions wrong? I don’t think they are. I think others, if they saw it and saw what I saw and talked to the folks that I saw, I think they’d come away feeling similar, and then we’d have an opportunity to actually move forward on this. So I think that’s why it’s important for more people to go down and see, so we’re not relying on a single perspective and trying to make a judgment from that. I think it’s hard to support the argument against if you go down and see it for yourself.

AB: Can you talk to me about the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act?

RC: It’s a really simple little amendment to the current statute, which was implemented in 2000, which said that that agriculture exports had to be purchased in cash up front. Well that’s an impediment to doing business in Cuba for the most part. We have been able to occasionally one-off purchases, but on an ongoing basis, maintaining that business relationship has been very difficult — if not impossible — when we’re not able to extend credit to Cuba. 

And so this lifts that restriction and allows USDA to play a role in helping farmers and the sellers of commodities here in the U.S. to secure credit and [recognize] international letters of credit from Cuba and whatever financial arrangements are necessary to make that business transaction a reality.

I think that’s important. Just a small step further is allowing for U.S. investment in non-state owned entities. There are non-state owned entities in Cuba. That is the encouraging part of this, is that we are starting to see that social change, political change, economic change. The more we are involved in it the faster that’ll change.

AB: What should people realize or know about Cuban relations and trade?

RC: Look at it like this: if we’re able to do business in Cuba, that certainly has an economic impact here at home. If we’re selling more rice, we’re expanding market access to products grown and processed in Arkansas. That has a positive economic impact and can improve our quality of life here at home — that’s the simplest way to look at it. 

I think that when we’re not doing that and we see a stifling in the marketplace, whether it’s Cuba or anyone else, we’re going to feel the negative effects of that. What we need to be about is trying to identify opportunities in a given market and be able to tear down the barriers so that we can move our Arkansas products in a more productive way and actually impact the lives of folks within Arkansas.

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