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Group pushing trade with Cuba launches in NM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Washington, D.C.-based Engage Cuba Coalition on Wednesday added New Mexico to its roster of states with a local council supporting an end to the 56-year-old trade embargo against Cuba.

New Mexico is now the 13th state to form a local support council for the bipartisan Engage Cuba, which seeks to build support for lifting travel and trade restrictions while encouraging more interaction between the island nation and U.S. businesses and community leaders.

The group held a forum in Santa Fe about export opportunities in Cuba for New Mexico farmers and businesses and the need to lift U.S. restrictions on those activities. The forum, organized with support from U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., attracted business and individuals from around the state.

“Engage Cuba is leading efforts to build connections and create a foundation for business and cultural exchanges that allow our state’s citizens to interact with Cubans,” Udall told forum participants. “Cubans are hungry for change, and Americans are eager to do business with them. We want to open the world up to a new generation of Cubans.”

Among the trade opportunities are commodities like beans, wheat, beef and pecans.

Simon Brackley, president and CEO of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, said shared language and culture among Cuban and northern New Mexico communities could pave the way for robust interaction.

“Art, culture and history are economic engines in Santa Fe and northern New Mexico,” Brackley said. “I see a lot of opportunity to expand exchanges among artists and others.”

Those interactions will help grow business ties, Udall said. “Perhaps it starts with cultural and educational exchange trips, but business leads and opportunities will grow out of that,” he told the Journal.

Udall is a strong advocate for changes in U.S. policy initiated under President Barack Obama. That includes the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba last year and the easing of travel restrictions to allow more Americans to visit.

But the trade embargo remains in effect until Congress takes action. Udall and others are pushing to lift more restrictions in the embargo, such as completely ending the ban on travel to Cuba, allowing telecommunications companies to do business there and changing current law that since 2000 says U.S. producers can export agricultural goods only if Cuba pays for those products upfront in cash.

Roselyn Yazzie, bean crop manager for the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry, said NAPI is particularly interested in selling beans and other commodities to Cuba. In fact, the Navajo Nation unsuccessfully tried to sign a deal in 2006 with Alimport, Cuba’s state food purchasing agency, to sell black beans to the island. But negotiations collapsed when Alimport management changed and the agency instead signed a contract with China.

“We were this close to a contract for them to purchase all of our beans,” Yazzie said. “But I still see a lot of opportunities there, and we’re still in contact with them.”

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