Trade and travel between the United States and Cuba is again being pushed by House legislators as Congress prepares to return to the Hill for a lame duck session.

Especially popular among farm-state delegations, H.R. 4645 was introduced earlier this year (see bill) in an effort to expand agricultural trade with the Communist island nation. The move to loosen current restrictions received a boost following several hearings in the House Agriculture Committee (see hearings).

Immediately after its introduction, many agriculture and commerce-related interest groups heartily endorsed H.R. 4645.

For more on U.S./Cuba trade, see trade

Now, on news that the White House is finally preparing to move regarding Cuba, a letter has been sent to President Obama pointing to largely bipartisan support for increased access to Cuban markets.

“Repeal of the agricultural trade restrictions found in (current) regulations would also serve to advance your goal to double U.S. exports over the next five years,” the legislators reminded Obama. Further, the letter cites a Texas A&M study showing that making payment for U.S. commodities easier for Cuba would “increase U.S. exports to Cuba by $271 million and result in a total U.S. economic impact of $833 million.”

“Cuba relies heavily on imported food but current regulations limiting American farmers’ access hand-deliver the Cuban market to our competitors around the world,” said Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and co-sponsor of H.R. 4645. “While I prefer and remain committed to a legislative solution, repealing these regulations is a first step to boosting demand and expanding U.S. agriculture exports to Cuba.”

Kansas Rep. Jerry Moran, co-sponsor of H.R. 4645, said “if the Obama administration is preparing to make changes to U.S. travel policy towards Cuba, it only makes sense to repeal the 2005 restrictions placed on agricultural sales. These changes are the most widely supported modifications of U.S. policy on Cuba and are estimated to result in over $270 million in new exports."

Trade with Cuba has also been a point of emphasis as candidates for office campaign in the Mid-South.   

“We must gain more access for rice, poultry and other ag products in Cuba,” Chad Causey, who is running for Arkansas’ First District House seat, told Delta Farm Press. “I support increasing trade through the reduction of red tape that currently prevents us from providing credit sales and requires third-party vendors.

“Without hesitation, I wholeheartedly support increasing trade with Cuba. It’s far past time to do that. That is a large, growing market with potential for American … farmers.”

Some Republicans would like to tie their support for any Cuba deal to approval for trade deals pending on Columbia, Panama and South Korea.  While Causey also supports the Columbia and Panama trade agreements, he less happy with the pendng South Korea deal.

“I have a problem with the South Korea agreements. Our negotiators allowed rice to be taken off the table before they even negotiated that deal. That was wrong.

“For decades, our trade negotiators have looked at agriculture as something to trade away. Or they look for promised access 20 or 30 years down the road instead of fighting for increased access (immediately). They trade away (agriculture products) to gain access for other goods and I disagree with that. That’s why the South Korea deal should be reworked.”

Rep. John Boozman, who is running against Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln (see Lincoln), told Delta Farm Press he not only supports easing trade with Cuba but also travel restrictions. This runs counter to the position of many in his party.

“I’m very supportive of travel (freedoms) remaining,” said Boozman. “The way you change countries is through dialoguing with other nations. As Americans go visit, they’ll exchange not only goods and services, but ideas. The American way of life will win in that regard.”

For more, see Boozman