Monday, July 30, 2007

Keep pushing state trade with Cuba

July 30, 2007
Keep pushing state trade with Cuba

I's the perfect match -- a buyer who needs the things a seller makes, a
lot of those things. Capitalism doesn't get any better than that.

So it is with Alabama and Cuba, and that is why the state's efforts to
promote trade with the island nation deserve broad support. The
45-year-old trade embargo that needlessly limits commerce between Cuba
and American producers is a demonstrated failure that should have been
abandoned long ago.

As the Advertiser's Marty Roney recently reported, about one-third of
the limited U.S. exports to Cuba come from Alabama. There's potential
for much more trade because, put simply, Cuba needs what Alabama
produces -- particularly forest products and poultry, but also a number
of other products.

"Cuba is a natural trading partner," said state Agriculture Commissioner
Ron Sparks, long an advocate of expanded trade. "The Port of Mobile is
600 miles from Cuba. It takes two days for a ship to make the trip. Cuba
only raises 30 percent of what they eat. There are 11 million people in
Cuba who need to eat."

Cuba is going to import foodstuffs, forest products and the other things
it can't produce internally from somewhere, so why not from Alabama
producers, who are well positioned not only to make the needed products,
but also to ship them out of Mobile? It's hard to imagine a more
mutually beneficial situation.

The only real sticking point is the trade embargo, enacted in 1962. That
was 45 years ago by the calendar, but it was eons ago in a geopolitical
sense. The world is a vastly different place now and a Cold War-era
policy that was ineffective then isn't going to miraculously start
working now.

The issue, of course, is the lingering communist regime of Fidel Castro
in Cuba. Age and illness make it clear that his days are numbered. Even
clearer is the fact that the embargo, aimed at bringing down Castro's
regime, did nothing of the kind. He certainly never missed a meal
because of it, and the embargo's only harm was inflicted upon the Cuban
people and on potential trading partners elsewhere in the world.

As Sparks has correctly noted, Alabama's trade with Cuba is not fueling
some military threat to the United States. "We're not selling them
bullets or tanks or aircraft," he said. "We're selling them peanut
butter, syrup and shingles. Alabama has shipped 25 million utility poles
to Cuba."

Yet U.S. officials cling to the ludicrous positions that the embargo
will force changes in Cuban policy and easing it will not improve the
lot of the average Cuban, only that of those in power there. Can they
really believe that those 25 million utility poles only brought services
to the powerful, or that those tens of thousands of Alabama chickens
only graced the tables of the influential?

Even with the embargo, Alabama producers did about $120 million in
business with Cuba in 2006. The potential for far greater trade is
undeniable, and it is foolish not to tap it -- or, more accurately, not
to be allowed to tap it.

"I wouldn't tell any administration what to do, but I think it's time we
ended the embargo," Sparks said. "We don't have embargoes or trade
restrictions with China and Vietnam and we had two shooting wars with
those countries."

He's right. No one, least of all Alabama producers, benefits from this
outdated and glaringly ineffective policy.

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