Wednesday, March 18, 2009

US senators to Treasury: Respect Cuba trade rules

March 17, 2009

WASHINGTON (AFP) — US Senators Tuesday asked the Treasury to respect the intent of a new law that eases trade restrictions with Cuba, after Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said that the impact of the new rules would be negligible.

"I?m dismayed that the spirit and intent of the law has been disregarded by Treasury, but I fully expect that Secretary Geithner will revisit this issue," Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus said in a letter to the Treasury chief.

Provisions in a 410-billion-dollar "Omnibus" budget package approved March 10 by the Senate included a measure to loosen some restrictions on commerce with Cuba, including one that since 2005 had forced Cuba to pay "cash in advance" for US food imports.

In a letter sent to Senators opposed to the Cuba measure a few days before the budget provision was passed, Geithner said the practical impact of the changes would be negligible.

A copy of the March 5 letter obtained by AFP stressed that Cuba still will be required to pay "cash in advance" for US imports, in line with "current financing rules."

"This is contrary to the intention of the provisions included in the Omnibus legislation to halt this use," Baucus and 14 other senators said in their letter to Geithner.

Baucus, a senator from the midwestern state of Montana, said abiding by the new trade rules that would ease the "cash in advance" provision would "get US-Cuba relations back on track and get our Cuba policy right for America?s farmers and ranchers."

"I?ve worked to build ties and open Cuba to US products, including world-class Montana wheat and peas, and I will continue to press Treasury on this until the issue gets resolved," he said.

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