NEW YORK, NY – Last Friday, USA Rice staff and Arkansas rice farmer, Mark Isbell, were invited to participate in a business-oriented roundtable with Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel here at Cuba’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.
The Cuban government invited an array of private sector representatives to the intimate meeting representing industries from agriculture, banking, hospitality, and shipping and logistics. In addition to the President, Cuba’s Deputy Foreign Minister and its representatives to the United Nations and the Embassy to the United States were in attendance.
Participants shared frustration over the lack of U.S. engagement with Cuba from an Administration and Congressional standpoint but also encouraged President Díaz-Canel to continue efforts to improve investment by the Cuban private sector. There also was discussion over the optics of Cuba’s close relationships with China and Russia.
“This meeting was a unique opportunity to get in front of a foreign leader where there is so much potential for new business and growth on both sides of the equation,” said Isbell. “We are encouraged by recent commercial shipments of U.S. rice to Cuba, but a lot of work is still needed to move the needle in Congress, and this Administration will also need to engage more seriously with Cuba for there to be substantive improvements.”
President Díaz-Canel addressed the United Nations General Assembly earlier in the week and called for more equality for developing nations while also criticizing the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. Prior to the embargo, Cuba was the largest export market for U.S. rice.
“While I and many others in our industry hope to see greater growth in Cuban private industry and more opportunities and freedoms for its people, I believe more trade is the best way to bring about those ends,” said Isbell.
USA Rice helps lead the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba and continues to advocate to Congress for improvements to the U.S.-Cuba relationship, with a focus on permitting U.S. companies to finance sales to better compete with agricultural goods from foreign nations.