Thursday, July 19, 2007

Report: If ban were eased, U.S. exports to Cuba could double

If ban were eased, U.S. exports to Cuba could double, report says
BY PABLO BACHELET

MH
pbachelet@MiamiHerald.com

WASHINGTON --
Lifting U.S. trade and travel restrictions on Cuba could boost agricultural exports to the island by between $175 million and $350 million per year, a U.S. government report released Thursday concludes.

The $350 million figure would be more than double current agricultural exports to the island.

Opponents of U.S. policy seized on the conclusions to argue that the Bush administration needs to ease the restrictions in order to benefit U.S. exporters.

''It's clearly time for Congress to curb the overzealous trade embargo on Cuba, so that American ranchers and farmers can benefit to the tune of over $300 million a year,'' said Montana Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees trade issues.

The committee requested the study by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), an independent agency that reviews trade matters. The report is one of the most complete of its kind, with nine investigators conducting scores of interviews, including some in Cuba.

The report cautions that projections are difficult to make because of ``data limitations and the nonmarket aspects of Cuban purchasing decisions.''

It notes that agricultural goods are imported by the state trading agency Alimport, which considers both commercial and ''noncommercial factors'' when making its purchasing decisions, including diversifying suppliers and ``strengthening strategic geopolitical relations.''

So the study provides a range of $176 million to $350 million for additional Cuban purchases.

The 180-page report also estimates lifting travel restrictions would mean between 550,000 and one million U.S. citizens would travel to Cuba annually, against 170,000 that did so in 2005, most of them Cuban Americans.

U.S. commodity exports to Cuba were permitted in 2000 and the United States quickly became Cuba's biggest supplier of foodstuff, although farm state lawmakers like Baucus, who has proposed legislation to ease sanctions, argue that U.S. sales could be much higher.

The biggest gains would be for fresh fruits and vegetables, milk powder, processed foods and certain meats, ITC investigators concluded.

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