Monday, April 27, 2015

United States Cuba Relations: A Crock of Adam

Florida Agriculture Commissioner, Adam Putnam, is usually a smart politician and able public servant.  Not everyone gets elected to the U.S. House of Representatives at the age of 26 and then heads into statewide office as the Ag Commissioner of one of the most important states in the country.  However, everyone has their moments when one is left scratching their head.

 Last week Commissioner Putnam wrote a polemic on the reasons against opening the Agriculture trade with Cuba that can best be described as a crock of...well, you get the gist.  The letter can be read here: http://www.freshfromflorida.com/content/download/60121/1252472/Delegation_Ltr_04-22-2015.pdf

Commissioner Putnam unfortunately got played handily by the Cuba embargo hardliners, who refuse to see the reality that their position is flawed and the majority of Americans, Cuban Americans, and even Cubans want normal relations.  So the anti-normalization strategy appears to be manipulate politicians controlled by them and belittle and minimize any progress that gets made.

What is most concerning is that even Commissioner Putnam ignored the fact that the rest of his colleagues from the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) have come out endorsing and expanding the Agriculture trade with Cuba and the end of the embargo.  Here is NASDA's most recent policy statement on trade with Cuba issued in February, 2015:

"Trade with Cuba Current U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba allow for U.S. food and agricultural sales to Cuba but contain very challenging and specific licensing and financial provisions to which U.S. exporters must adhere. U.S. trade policy to Cuba is inconsistent with trade policy to other countries.

• NASDA urges the Administration and the U.S. Congress to reexamine U.S. policy towards Cuba and lift the current embargo against Cuba. The U.S. should:

• eliminate the “Cash Only” sales provision of the current law as well as extend trade to other areas besides food and medicine;

• streamline laws and regulations related to visa and license requirements to better promote trade activities and

• allow long term contracts, which will provide more efficiencies for both parties;

• allow exchange of biotech research would have a benefit to both countries; 87 NASDA Policy Statements

• allow importation of Cuban products into the U.S. only on the condition that there are appropriate safe guards for our domestic markets, particularly for import-sensitive commodities;

• hold Cuba to the same sanitary/phytosanitary standards as the rest of the world trading community; and

• ease travel and tourism restrictions for both countries, or at the very least, allow plant and animal health officials, as well as food safety officials of both countries to travel to and from Cuba.

• NASDA urges the Administration and the various U.S. government agencies to interpret the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act as broadly as possible, especially the financial terms so companies can compete with other countries in the global marketplace."

So when the rest of your counterparts from the other 49 states can agree on such a statement, one may wonder how Commissioner Putnam's letter can pass the smell test.  If Commissioner Putnam really is interested in what is in store for Florida when relations do normalize and is concerned about phytosanitary standards, he ought to do what at least many of his counterparts have done, go to Cuba and see for himself and engage in a dialogue with our neighbor.  Especially when the state that stands to be the greatest economic beneficiary of normal relations with Cuba is the Sunshine state.

Considering Commissioner Putnam may be a future Governor or even U.S. Senator from Florida, it is time he divorce himself from the hardline thinking that in this instance does not serve his best long term political interests.