Politics

Why are Minnesota officials heading to Cuba?

Minnesota hasn’t been shy about buddying up to Cuba since the Obama administration opened those doors in late 2014.

The Minnesota orchestra played there. Minnesota officials like U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar as well as U.S. Reps. Tom Emmer and Rick Nolan visited. Local business and other leaders launched an effort to promote a partnership between Cuba and the state.

Just last week President Donald Trump announced a roll back of some of those Obama-era changes.

But a group of Minnesota officials is trekking down to Cuba this week to continue the push.

Who’s going – and why

Klobuchar is once again going on this trip, which is centered around agriculture.

She’ll be part of a larger group, including Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, state Sen. Julie Rosen, Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson, and representatives from farming groups.

They leave Monday, and will visit with agricultural officials, markets, co-ops and others throughout the week. They return Friday.

Like the previous jaunts to the island, this one is about taking advantage of Cuba’s need to import food. Specifically corn and beans.

The state exported $7.3 billion in agricultural products worldwide in 2014, the governor’s office says. And Cuba imports nearly $2 billion in food and ag from around the world each year.

This Minnesota delegation sees that as an untapped market.

11 million new customers

The group Engage Cuba – a Minnesota coalition of private businesses and organizations – has said opening up trade with Cuba would allow the state’s businesses to reach 11 million new customers. (The country’s population, essentially.)

“This trip to Cuba is a great opportunity to connect with new consumers and develop new markets for Minnesota-grown corn,” Harold Wolle, Jr., president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, said in a release.

And here’s James Zenk, who is on the Minnesota Dry Bean Research and Promotion Council: “Cuba consumes about 100,000 metric tons of dry beans each year. That’s a significant market for us. We look forward to sharing our products with Cuban consumers.”

Klobuchar also recently introduced legislation (again) to try to end the Cuba trade embargo. It’s a bipartisan bill with one other Democrat and two Republicans as the main supporters.

You can read more about last week’s Trump decision – and some criticism Emmer had for it – in this other story.

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