Friday, June 22, 2007

Statement by U.S. Senator Baucus when introducing S. 1673

June 21, 2007, Congressional Record

Mr. BAUCUS. Mr. President, today I am proud to introduce legislation with Senator MIKE CRAPO, House Ways and Means Chairman CHARLIE RANGEL, and Congresswoman JO ANN EMERSON to help open a promising market to American exports. That market is Cuba .

For too long, we have maintained ideologically driven restrictions that have undermined our export competitiveness in a market 90 miles away from us.

Just beyond our shoreline, our trading partners--especially Canada and China--are making multi billion-dollar investments in a Cuban economy that is growing at a rate of 7 to 12 percent per year. But the United States just stands by while these and other countries capitalize on opportunities in our own backyard.

Our economic policy toward Cuba simply is not working. This bill changes that.

The greatest opportunities exist in Cuba's agriculture sector. When Congress passed legislation allowing food and medicine sales to Cuba in 2000, some people said Cuba would never buy. Fidel Castro himself predicted that Cuba would buy ``not one grain'' from the United States.

But Mr. Castro was wrong. Agricultural sales happened. In 2004 alone, Cubans bought more than $375 million in American agricultural products. And, today, nearly every state in the union wants to get into the largest agriculture market in the Caribbean.

I have worked tirelessly to market Montana's high quality agriculture products, and it has paid off. In 2003, I inked a $10 million deal with Cuba . After we completed that deal, I went back to Havana and signed another deal--for $15 million. We have sent Montana wheat, beans and peas to Cuba , and that is just the beginning.

But it has not been easy. In 2005, the Treasury Department issued a rule to undermine the will of Congress. In landmark legislation, Congress in 2000 facilitated agriculture exports to Cuba by authorizing the use of cash basis sales. But the Treasury rule made such transactions impossible. Instead, sellers had to resort to foreign letters of credit, which are time-consuming, complicated, and expensive, especially for smaller exporters.

The Treasury rule stunted what had been meteoric growth in American agriculture exports to Cuba . This rule flies in the face of the law, and it will not stand.

Today's bill overturns the Treasury rule. It clarifies that not only do we intend to let these cash basis sales go forward, we mean to expand and promote them. This bill also ensures that exporters and commodity groups looking to get into the Cuban market get help from the Department of Agriculture. And it would require our Agriculture Department to promote American agricultural exports for Cuba .

Increased agriculture sales will allow Cubans to become familiar with more and more American branded food products. But a little-known provision of U.S. law--known as section 211--invites Cuba to withhold trademark protection from these and other American food exports. Today's bill also addresses that problem.

Section 211 bars U.S. courts from hearing claims of foreign nationals to trademarks similar to or associated with expropriated properties. It also forbids the United States from allowing foreign nationals to register or renew such trademark rights. In other words, it denies trademark protection to Cuban assets. If we are not going to recognize Cuban brands, why should Cuba , in the future, recognize American brands?

The World Trade Organization has already struck down section 211 as inconsistent with U.S. international trade obligations. It is time for this Congress to do the same. My bill repeals this wrong-headed and WTO-inconsistent provision. It ensures the continued security of thousands of American-owned trademarks already registered in Cuba .

I am a big proponent of getting American food products into Cuba . But I also fundamentally believe that we should never use food and medicine as a weapon against a people, no matter what we think of their government.

Many of my colleagues agree with me on this. This is why Congress, in the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act, authorized medicine and medical supplies sales to Cuba . But, at that time, we didn't get it quite right. We passed a law with good intent but loaded it up with so many restrictions that we have made medical sales to Cuba more difficult than medical sales to Iran or North Korea.

My bill will correct this lopsided and inhumane policy. It will allow Cubans access to our medicines and medical products--which are the best money can buy--on the same terms that we offer to other regimes. There is no sound reason to deny our products to our Cuban neighbors but allow such sales to Iran and North Korea.

I have taken Montana farmers and ranchers to Cuba to explore export opportunities. But such opportunities are rare because our government, with limited exceptions, does not permit travel to Cuba . And those exceptions are so riddled with red tape as to discourage applicants from making use of them.

Many Americans are ready and willing to travel to Cuba , and not just to make agriculture sales. Religious organizations have deep roots on the island--since before the Castro government. They are a lifeline, bringing hope, help, and brotherhood to their counterparts in Cuba . American academics and professionals engage in thoughtful exchanges of research and ideas. American students visit with Cuban students, and they learn lessons a teacher cannot imbue.

Nearly everyone in Cuba has a dear friend or relative living in the United States. Tens of thousands of Cubans who found their way to America save their hard earned dollars on frequent trips home, their bags packed with medicine, vitamins, and clothing.

Rather than encourage these meaningful contacts between Cubans and Americans, our government stifles our interaction. Rather than unite the Cuban family, our government seeks to divide it further.

Americans do not benefit from this policy. The Cuban people do not benefit from this policy. Only those who seek to keep Americans and Cubans apart benefit from our misguided policy of isolation.

It is time to reach out to the Cuban people. It is time to restore Americans' fundamental right to travel anywhere they want. It is time to lift the travel ban.

I am proud of our bill. It spells out the right policy during this fundamental transition in Cuba . It helps farmers and ranchers in Montana and elsewhere seek opportunities in a nearby market. And it affords our citizens the opportunity to spread American generosity, assistance, and values to Cuba .

I look forward to working with Senator CRAPO, Chairman RANGEL, Congresswoman EMERSON, and others to put our trade relationship with Cuba on the right path.

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