December 08,2004

Baucus Threatens Hold on Treasury Nominees Over New Cuba Rules

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) U.S. Senator Max Baucus, ranking member of the FinanceCommittee, vowed Wednesday to block new Treasury Department confirmations before theSenate if the Department does not back down on proposed new restrictions on agricultural tradewith Cuba.

Baucus’ warning came after learning that the Treasury Department’s Office of ForeignAssets Control (OFAC), which administers the trade and travel sanctions against Cuba, isconsidering a potential change in U.S. policy toward the island that could significantly impedethe sale of food products to the island nation. Since the Trade Sanctions Reform and ExportEnhancement Act of 2000 made such sales legal on a cash in advance basis, Cuba has becomethe United States 21st largest agricultural export market.

"Moving to obstruct lawful trade after three years of it functioning without incident takesthis administration’s dangerous obsession with Cuba to a whole new level," said Baucus. "I willnot sit idly by if the Treasury Department attempts to rewrite legislation Congress intended tofacilitate trade with Cuba. I am prepared to hold up the next significant Treasury Departmentnominee until this gets resolved."

The proposed change in the regulations governing food sales to Cuba would clarify theTreasury Department’s interpretation of food sales to Cuba on a 'cash in advance' basis. Since2001, U.S. businesses have delivered some $800 million in ag products to the island, receivingpayment in advance of delivery. Last week, Treasury, State and Agriculture Departmentofficials met to discuss a proposed clarification of the 'payment in advance' requirement thatwould require buyers to pay in advance of shipment, a new condition at which Cuba's importagency, Alimport, may balk.

In a November 23rd letter to Treasury Secretary John Snow, Baucus joined SenatorsLarry Craig (R-ID) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) in noting that "OFAC’s mission is to enforcesanctions in place against Cuba, not to regulate or interfere in lawful commerce between theUnited States and Cuba." The senators went on to write that, "Since TSRA expressly codified theright of U.S producers to sell food and medicine to Cuba, any attempts by OFAC to inhibit suchsales must necessarily be interpreted as a conscious and intentional decision by OFAC to floutthe will of Congress."

"Moreover, given that your other, far more important mission is to help root out theinternational sources of terrorist financing, we must express our outrage and profounddisappointment that you appear to be choosing a course of action that will most likely create anadditional burden - and thus a greater drain - on your agency resources. We consider thisirresponsible and indefensible," the senators concluded.

Earlier this year, Baucus criticized a Treasury report showing that the equivalent of 21full-time OFAC employees are allocated to enforcing the Cuba travel ban, while only 16 areallocated to the search for Al-Qaeda’s financial sources of support.