Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) held a hearing on the Promoting American Agricultural and Medical Exports to Cuba Act of 2007, (S. 1673), a bill he introduced earlier this year, that would facilitate the export of U.S. agricultural products to Cuba as authorized by the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000.

Chairman Baucus noted in opening the hearing that U.S. policy toward Cuba “undermines America’s economic competitiveness. And it does not help promote our overall foreign policy goals. It is high time that we rethink Cuba policy and direct it toward today’s realities and opportunities.”

Regarding the regulatory action taken by the Administration in early 2005 in defining “payment of cash in advance,” Chairman Baucus noted, “our own government’s rules give farmers and ranchers in other countries a competitive advantage over American farmers and ranchers.”

The Baucus bill — cosponsored by 12 other senators, including rice-state senators Blanche L. Lincoln (D-AR), Mark Pryor (D-AR), and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) — would establish an agricultural export promotion program for Cuba, remove impediments to exporting medical devices and medicines to Cuba, and allow U.S. citizens to travel to the island.

“Cuba imports over 700,000 metric tons of rice annually and was once our top export market. We expect that under normal commercial relations it will be again,” USA Rice Federation President and CEO Betsy Ward said. “We greatly appreciate the leadership of Chairman Baucus and his committee on this important issue.”

“We look forward to continuing to work with Congress on legislation that would allow open and normal commercial trade relations with Cuba. Normalized trade is long overdue and would benefit U.S. agriculture and the Cuban people, whose most important food is rice” Ward said.

The bill’s provisions include:

· Clarification of the term “payment of cash in advance” for purposes of agricultural sales to Cuba

· Authorization of direct transfer of funds between Cuban and U.S. banks for purposes of payment for agricultural sales to Cuba

· Establishment of an agricultural export promotion program to promote and facilitate U.S. export of agricultural products to Cuba

· Permission of U.S. citizens to travel to and from Cuba

“The multi-generational embargo against Cuba has over the years cost the U.S. rice industry more than $3 billion in lost contracts, and perhaps thousands of jobs,” Ward said.