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Trade With Cuba Would Benefit Arkansas

Rice is Arkansas' number one crop, and opening up trade with Cuba could mean a boost to the state's economy. (USDA)
Rice is Arkansas' number one crop, and opening up trade with Cuba could mean a boost to the state's economy. (USDA)
April 15, 2016

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Human-rights issues and free elections continue to be at the forefront of the United States' tentatively renewed relationship with Cuba. President Obama visited the country recently and has taken some steps toward lifting the trade embargo, but that would need congressional approval, and it's been politically charged and not likely to happen in an election year.

Several Cuban diplomats recently paid a visit to central and northwest Arkansas to promote open trade. Ron Rainey, a professor and economist at the University of Arkansas's Center for Agriculture and Rural Sustainability, said it would be a huge money maker for the state but also would help the Cuban people when it comes to food safety.

"There are things that we can look at in terms of just their processing systems from production from the field to the table, that they may or may not be aware of from a food-safety perspective, from what we use in the U.S. called good agricultural practices," he said.

Arkansas farmers want to be able to sell rice to Cuba. Rice is grown in more than half of the state's counties, and last year accounted for almost half of the total amount produced in the United States.

Rainey said Cuban farmers have had to do many things the old-fashioned way because they lack our advances in technology. He also said there are things we could learn from them.

"They're doing a more sustainable system; they produce the way we did two decades ago," he said. "Some of those things are coming back full circle as we're looking at our use of natural resources."

Rainey will be part of a delegation heading to Cuba this summer that is sponsored by the World Trade Center in Rogers. Rainey said he hopes to learn a lot about agriculture in the country, but also thinks the education system there is worth studying.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - AR