President’s policy change with Cuba could impact Arkansas farmers, economy

CBS Newspath

LITTLE ROCK — President Donald Trump announced plans to change the current policy with Cuba last week. It’s a move that could have an impact on Arkansans and the state’s economy.

In October of 2016, President Barrack Obama made moves to change the U.S. policy towards Cuba, by lifting decades old restrictions on trade and travel.

“Many Arkansas rice farmers were overjoyed at the possibility to export to Cuba, a country that’s main imports are rice and chicken, and one that’s market has been off limits for 55 years.”

Jeff Rutledge, the President of the Arkansas Rice Council,  is one of those farmers.

“It has the potential to be about 140,000 metric ton market. You can do the math to figure out the dollar amount.”

Well, we did the math.

That’s about $70 million Arkansas farmers could have made from Cuban imports.

“They could be the third largest market for us as far as exports go.”

Those prospects are now looking grim after the President’s announcement last week.

While that policy won’t affect rice imports and exports directly, they could have a severe indirect impact through tourism.

The President has banned individual self-directed travel to Cuba.

“If you’re cutting off tourist dollars flowing in to that country, that will eventually be used to buy our products, then they don’t have those funds to buy our products anymore.”

Essentially, without tourists, Cubans need less rice; long-grain rice grown in Arkansas.

Many Arkansas Representatives supported President Obama’s policy towards Cuba and criticized President Trump’s new policy.

“It would be more effective to continue an open line of communication and working relationship with a bad government in need of democratic assistance, instead of shutting them out,” said Senator John Boozman.

All the  details of President Trump’s policy aren’t clear yet so Rutledge is hopeful the President is listening, and said he’s not giving up hope.

Congressman Rick Crawford has also written a bill to remove the agricultural trade barriers between the U.S. and Cuba.

He currently has 37 co-sponsors and is lobbying for more support.