The U.S. wheat industry is urging Congress and the Obama administration to immediately ease trade and travel restrictions with Cuba to allow U.S. wheat growers to compete fully in this market, according to U.S. Wheat Associates (USW).

USW is the wheat industry’s market development organization working in 90 countries on behalf of America's wheat producers.

As members of an industry that exports more than half of its production in a typical year, U.S. wheat growers rely on the ability to open and expand international markets.

Cuba represents substantial potential for future sales of U.S. wheat with a population of more than 11 million that consumes close to 1 million metric tons (MMT) of wheat per year. Cuba is the largest importer of wheat and wheat products in the Caribbean.

Though proximity and historical ties should provide a competitive advantage for U.S. wheat, the U.S. holds a less than 50 percent market share in Cuba, compared to a more than 85 percent market share in other Caribbean areas.

Over the past 10 years, Cuba has imported greater quantities of wheat from the European Union, Canada, and Argentina with an estimated cost to the U.S. wheat industry of the continued trade restrictions of upwards of $100 million per year, USW says.

The U.S. wheat industry believes that the best way to help U.S. wheat growers fully realize sales potential in Cuba is to overturn the February 2005 change to financing requirements and to lift travel restrictions to allow for the freedom of reciprocal travel between the U.S. and Cuba for all citizens.

USW has continually stressed to the Obama administration and its predecessors the harm that current Cuba policy does to U.S. wheat’s prospects with the island nation.

The National Association of Wheat Growers, the industry’s policy advocacy organization, strongly supports immediate legislative action to clarify the payment rules and ease travel restrictions hamstringing U.S.-Cuba wheat trade. The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act (H.R. 874/S. 428), the Agricultural Export Facilitation Act of 2009, and other bills are vital to achieving these goals.

“With the current economy placing new hardships on our producers, this is an opportune time to encourage the United States to change its trade policies toward Cuba,” says Kansas Congressman Jerry Moran, sponsor of H.R. 874.