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Gov. Nixon, agriculture leaders discuss trade with Cuba

State representative Bill Reiboldt doesn’t know much about Cuba’s agriculture, and while not a smoker, is familiar with the cigars the country is famous for producing. He’s glad, though, the island country ninety miles south of the United States’ coast is spurring a conversation about agriculture in Missouri.

“This is my fifth year in Jefferson City,” the Republican representative from Newton County said, “and this is the first year that I can remember agriculture, our number one industry in the state, come to the forefront.”

Reiboldt, the House of Representatives’ chairman of the Agriculture Committee, attended a meeting held by the Missouri Farm Bureau with Governor Jay Nixon, Department of Agriculture Director Kevin Fordyce and several leaders of farming trade industries in Missouri to discuss possible trade with Cuba. Last month, President Barack Obama announced changes to the U.S. long-standing restrictions with Cuba, including travel and commerce. As former sanctions continue to deteriorate and trade begins to increase, the Governor said he wanted Missouri to help Missouri farmers compete in selling food to the island nation.

“We think a great way for us to put a first step down is to be a leading state down there, to begin trade mission to sell them the food and fuel that they need for the future,” the Governor said.

The U.S. began selling food to Cuba in 2002. However, Cubans must pay in cash and go through a bank outside the U.S. to buy it. Governor Nixon said this puts farmers at a distinct disadvantage with Cuba’s regular trade partners, such as Brazil and China.

Each of the representatives of the trade groups, such as the Missouri Soybean Association and Missouri Rice Council, agreed exploring trade with Cuba was a smart idea for Missouri to gain a competitive advantage over other states. Nixon said he would travel with dozens of other Missourians with the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba from March 1-4 to talk with Cuban leaders about potential agricultural trade.

Some national lawmakers, such as Republican senator Marco Rubio from Florida and Democratic senator Robert Menendez from New Jersey, said lightening trade restrictions with Cuba would help support a Communist regime with human rights issues. Nixon said there were legitimate human rights and defense issues surrounding the restructuring of foreign relations with Cuba, but dismissed them as issues for the federal government’s focus.

“Those are federal issues, so I respect their right to continue to work and hold strong positions in those areas,” Nixon said. “But at the same time, there’s nothing but a green light for us moving forward to sell the people of Cuba their food, their fuel and the substances they clothe themselves in.”

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