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US Report: Cuba Embargo Stifling Farm Trade


Some U.S. senators have welcomed a new report that suggests easing U.S. trade restrictions with Cuba could boost American farm sales to the Communist-ruled island. In Miami, VOA's Brian Wagner reports that experts say Cuba's political and economic system, however, remain key obstacles to lifting U.S. trade restrictions.

The report by the U.S. International Trade Commission shows that the United States was the main supplier of agricultural products to Cuba last year, accounting for 30 percent of the island's imports. It says that number could increase to 50 percent if Washington ended some of its decades-long restrictions on trade between the two nations.

Since 2000, American farmers and other agricultural exporters have been allowed to sell goods to Cuba, on a cash-only basis. Some exporters complain that current rules place too many limits on financing and other transaction terms.

The Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Democrat Max Baucus, requested the report in an effort to draw support for a new proposal that would ease restrictions on trade and travel to the Caribbean nation. Lawmakers from the Republican and Democratic Parties have been pressing for changes to Cuba policy in recent months, which the Bush administration opposes.

John Kavulich is an adviser to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council in New York, and he consulted with the International Trade Commission on its report. He says U.S. policies are only part of the problem.

"This is not and cannot be all about what the U.S. has to do to increase export opportunities," he said. "It is what Cuba needs to do to increase import opportunities."

Kavulich says one key obstacle for Cuban importers is the weak level of Cuba's foreign exchange, which it needs to finance foreign purchases. He says Cuba has few lucrative exports, and it remains heavily dependent on financial support from other leftist nations.

"The Cuban government today is as dependent as it was, or more so, on Venezuela and China," he added. "They have made no structural changes."

Kavulich says that economic conditions are unlikely to change for several years in Cuba, where leader Fidel Castro temporarily handed power to his brother, Raul, nearly a year ago.

President Bush has said he opposes easing restrictions on the Communist government, and several lawmakers who support the embargo say they will fight to preserve it.