Marvin Lehrer, USA Rice Federation senior adviser on Cuba, is in Havana this week to discuss opportunities for U.S. rice exports to Cuba with ALIMPORT, Cuba’s food-buying agency.

“I’ve asked Marvin to meet with ALIMPORT to discuss our efforts to promote U.S. rice and increase sales to Cuba,” USA Rice Federation President and CEO Betsy Ward said. “Cuba is potentially one of our largest export markets, and we are committed to expanding U.S. rice sales there.”

Lehrer has represented the USA Rice Federation in Havana since 2000. In 2001, USA Rice was the first U.S. food commodity to exhibit products at a Cuban trade show.

Cuba imports about 600,000 metric tons of rice annually, making it one of Latin America’s largest rice importers. From the time Congress first allowed the resumption of agricultural sales to Cuba in 2001, U.S. rice sales increased, but have fallen significantly since 2005, the result of tighter export restrictions by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Cuba was the largest market for U.S. rice before the imposition of the U.S. trade embargo in the early 1960s and USA Rice estimates that the embargo has cost the U.S. rice industry about $3 billion in sales and perhaps thousands of jobs.

USA Rice supports legislation in Congress to further open opportunities for trade and travel with Cuba. Recent legislation includes:

• the Promoting American Agriculture and Medical Exports to Cuba Act of 2009, S-1089, introduced May 20, by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and 15 colleagues, that would clarify the “cash-in-advance” provision of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSREEA) to ensure its interpretation according to the intent of Congress and authorize direct fund transfers between U.S. and Cuban banks for agricultural exports.

• the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act (H.R. 874), a bill that introduced by Reps. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) earlier this year would lift restrictions on travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens.

• the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act (S.428), the Senate version of H.R. 874, introduced by Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) on Feb. 12.