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Cuban economic reforms encouraging for ag imports from U.S

Economic reforms in Cuba will encourage that country to import more agricultural products from the United States, a key U.S. analyst of Cuba said at a briefing last week.

“To the extent reforms succeed, that’s good for the U.S. farmer,” Jake Colvin, the vice president for global trade issues at the National Foreign Trade Council, said at an NFTC briefing.

Colvin said the biggest reason for Cuba’s importation of U.S. farm products in recent years has been the poor economy and low purchasing power rather than credit issues or Cuba’s relationships with Venezuela, Brazil, Vietnam and other countries.

Colvin, Bill Leogrande, the dean of the American University School of Public Affairs, and Ted Piccone, senior fellow and deputy director foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, who have all traveled to Cuba recently, said they consider the reforms to be a real change since Raul Castro succeeded his brother Fidel as the head of the government.

Cuba today, “looks like early reforms in China and Vietnam,” Leogrande said, adding that the Cubans have studied the changes in those countries. Raul Castro was responsible for some of the first economic reforms in the 1980s and has said that Cuba can’t be the only country in the world where people don’t have to work and still get benefits, Leogrande said.

Cuba, he added, needs private-sector development to address economic problems and low productivity. There are more private sandwich shops and plumbers and the government is giving away land in the hopes that farmers will be more productive, Leogrande said.

But Piccone noted that agriculture is still at a very low level of development and that there is no system for individual farmers to buy tractors.

Piccone noted that the Obama administration has allowed more Americans to travel to Cuba, but said he thinks “it’s a shame” that the economic reforms have not had more of an effect on the administration’s policies.

“We’re really missing a great opportunity here,” he said.

But Piccone said he believes that if Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is elected he will “roll back” the Obama administration rules that allow Cuban Americans to visit Cuba and the “people to people” visits that involve other Americans.

Florida, he noted, has recently passed a law that does not permit university officials to engage in academic relations with Cuba.