Earlier this week, members of the Arkansas agribusiness community, including academic and political leaders, launched the Arkansas State Council for Engage Cuba. The council plans to boost the state’s agricultural economy and is similar to others groups formed in Louisiana, Minnesota, Ohio and Tennessee.
At a press conference, Engage Cuba, a coalition of businesses and organizations promoting an end to the trade embargo on Cuba, announced the launch of the Arkansas group to increase support for changes in U.S. policy. James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, stated. “Under the leadership of Governor Asa Hutchinson, Senator John Boozman and Representative Rick Crawford, Arkansas is ground zero for our efforts to lift the travel ban and trade embargo.”
According to the Delta Farm Press, Arkansas is the nation’s largest rice-producing state, and Cuba once was a major buyer of rice from the United States. Although U.S. rice shipments resumed following passage of the U.S. Trade Sanction Reform and Export Enhancement Act in 2000, sales have never reached pre-embargo levels of the 1940s and 1950s.
However, not all Arkansas legislators are on board. Per the Southwest Times Record, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., has called restoring diplomatic relations between the two nations “a grave mistake.” Last year, Cotton told the Arkansas Times, “Rest assured, I will work to maintain and increase sanctions on the regime, block the confirmation of a new ambassador, demand the extradition of U.S. fugitives from justice, and hold the Castro regime accountable.”
Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward, a member of the Arkansas State Council for Engage Cuba, will deliver the keynote address, “Agricultural Trade with Cuba,” at the Third Annual Mid-South Agricultural and Environmental Law Conference. The conference will be held Friday, April 22 in Memphis, TN, at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. Registration information is available here.