Recently, a delegation of 24 Texans traveled to Havana to promote Lone Star State agriculture. Our trip was historic, the first official state sponsored trade mission from Texas to Cuba in more than 45 years. The diverse group included Texas farmers, ranchers, commodity suppliers, port representatives and members of the Texas Farm Bureau. Our goal was united: learn how we can participate in the Cuban market.
In 2000 Congress partially lifted the trade ban to Cuba, allowing states to export agriculture and medical supplies to the island nation. The U.S. Treasury Department, which oversees the program, gave its stamp of approval for us to make the journey.
Upon our arrival, I quickly concluded one thing: I am glad we made this momentous visit – leading this delegation to Cuba was the right thing to do. Two countries shouldn’t be geographical neighbors without sincere efforts to be neighborly.
For nearly five decades the United States and Cuba have lived as strangers, but now we must seize the opportunity to heal the divide. I knew Texas agriculture had something to offer which could dramatically improve life for the Cuban people and open doors for Texas agricultural producers. We have resources; they have a real need.
The need is great. Cuba imports two billion dollars worth of food and fiber products each year, yet Texas only contributes about $25 million of those agricultural products. It is exciting our visit already resulted in newly signed contracts totaling almost $900,000 with even more opportunities on the horizon.
I understand issues, crucial issues exist and are real between our countries. The differences in our forms of government cause more than apprehension between us. I am an American; I embrace all things American. I love and take pride in my country and the achievements and contributions the United States has and is making. They are Cubans, and as you might suspect, they embrace all things Cuban.
So, where does this leave us? Well, being neighborly is always a good course to take.
Building relationships around a basic human need such as food can only be beneficial. Building trust by supplying the best agricultural products the world has to offer, Texas products, can only lead to a greater understanding. Being known as people of your word instills confidence for future engagement.
Texas and the United States have become agricultural production powerhouses through our farmers’ and ranchers’ abilities to develop, apply and share knowledge and research. Today Texas agriculture comprises about 9.4 percent of our Gross State Product and generates more than $100 billion economic impact for our state.
As we look toward the future, I think we can all agree that equipping others to help themselves creates a win-win for all. Our delegation’s mission to Cuba provided us the opportunity to learn about the future of Cuba and the role Texas and the United States may play in the years ahead.
Building bridges and overcoming barriers – that is something Texans know and care about. Our state motto is “Friendship.” Along with being pioneers, wildcatters and overachievers, developing friendly relations is the foundation of our future.