Opening of trade door may whet Cuba's appetite for Midwest farm goods

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Agricultural businesses are among those cheering President Obama's announcement that the U.S. is restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Twin Cities-based Cargill, one of the biggest food companies in the U.S., has long lobbied for an end to the trade embargo that's been in place more than 50 years. A statement from Cargill hailed the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations, saying:

“It will create a new market for U.S. farmers, ranchers and food companies, and give the Cuban people improved access to affordable food.”

A Cargill vice-president tells MPR News that President Obama's executive order is a historical moment but notes that an act of Congress is required to fully repeal the trade embargo.

Even so, visions of free trade with the island nation of 11 million are dancing in the heads of agribusinesses.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota points out that Cuba imports 80 percent of the food it rations to the public and the country's diet is heavy in products grown in the Upper Midwest.

Beans top the list of commodities likely to find a fertile market in Cuba. The Grand Forks Herald says Cubans are big consumers of black beans and currently get much of their supply from Canada and China.

Among U.S. states, North Dakota is tops in production of dry edible beans, while Minnesota ranks fourth, the Herald reports.

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan called the normalization of diplomatic relations a monumental step and the Associated Press reports the Minnesota Democrat says he hopes to travel to Cuba next year.

Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, on the other hand, called the move inexplicable and told MPR News: "Until Cuba changes (its) ways, there's no reason for the United States to change its policy."

It would probably be hard to find a Minnesotan happier about Wednesday's news than longtime Twins star Tony Oliva. The Pioneer Press notes that Oliva, who won the Rookie of the Year award with the 1964 Twins, was one of the last Cuban ballplayers to arrive in the U.S. without having to defect.

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