January 06,2005

Baucus Grills Ag Secretary Nominee on Cuba Trade

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) U.S. Senator Max Baucus, ranking member of the FinanceCommittee, today questioned President Bush’s designee for Secretary of Agriculture, Gov. MikeJohanns (R-Neb) over the future of food sales to Cuba.

Baucus pressed Johanns for his personal commitment to use discretion available to himas Secretary to fend off bureaucratic attempts to choke off trade with Cuba. Baucus also insistedthat Johanns should read and implement the law that made food and medicine sales to Cuba legalin 2000.

“Congress passed legislation in 2000 which emphad our congressional desire toexport agricultural products to Cuba,” Baucus said. “I’m asking you to—according to the spiritof that legislation—to aggressively help American farmers and companies to export theirproducts to Cuba.”

The senator’s spate of questions for the Agriculture Secretary designate came in the wakeof discussions at the Treasury Department, in consultation with USDA and State, to reinterprethow the 2000 legislation that made food sales to Cuba legal for the first time in 40 years.

“Senator Baucus played a key role in securing this legislation and the wheat industry ispleased that he raised concerns of over recent Administration actions that threatened future salesto this close neighbor,” noted Barbara Spangler, executive director of the Wheat Export TradeEducation Committee (WETEC). “It is critical that the new Secretary understand the importanceof Cuba to American producers.”

Baucus, who has sponsored legislation to end the forty-year-old sanctions against theisland nation, traveled to Cuba in December to join several hundred Americans at an AgriculturalTrade Negotiation Round in Havana. In 2003, the senator hosted a Montana trade delegation toCuba and walked away with a $10 million Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Montanaproducts. After completing the first MOU, Baucus signed a second MOU with Cuba for $15million.