Some farm groups, Democrats slam trade compromise

Friday, July 7th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Action by House Republicans could worsen Cuba embargo, they say

WASHINGTON – Some farm groups and their Democratic allies in the Senate are threatening to block an easing of the Cuba trade embargo because it does not go far enough to boost food exports.

The National Farmers Union and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said Thursday that a compromise approved last week by House Republican leaders was unworkable and could worsen the embargo.

"If I felt the House language was even moving in the right direction, I would support it, but it is not," Mr. Dorgan said at a Capitol news conference. "It is a legislative hoax."

Mr. Dorgan said he and Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., would do whatever it takes to defeat the House compromise and get the ban on food sales lifted without restrictions.

"We intend to use all the tools at our disposal to get this policy changed this year," Mr. Dorgan said.

Tom Buis, vice president for government relations with the National Farmers Union, said the House compromise would do little to help ailing farmers and could increase cynicism about Washington farm policies.

"Farmers are looking for real solutions, not symbolism," he said. "When all was said and done, more was said than done."

The compromise supported by the House Republican leadership June 27 would ease the embargo on food sales to Cuba, Iran, Libya, Sudan and North Korea, but would bar federal or private loans, insurance or credits to finance sales to Cuba.

Food exporters violating the credit rules could be prosecuted under the federal Trading with the Enemy Act.

This week, the Houston-based U.S. Rice Producers Association attacked the House compromise because of the restrictions.

"This proposal would force U.S. farmers to compete with foreign governments while risking jail terms if they wish to sell food to the Cuban people," said Dennis DeLaughter, chairman of the rice producers association. "It is easy to understand why our farmers do not view this proposal as a workable one."

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Farm Bureau applauded the House deal, while recognizing that sales to Cuba would be limited.

"We will make sales under this proposal," said American Farm Bureau trade specialist Audrae Erickson. "Remember, this is not a Cuba-only bill."

Ms. Erickson said Iran imports about $3 billion of food annually, while Cuban imports amount to about $1 billion.

Mr. Dodd has criticized the House compromise for tightening restrictions on travel to Cuba. Though travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba is effectively prohibited, the president can relax those rules.

The GOP food sales compromise would write the travel restrictions into law, meaning only Congress could then ease them.

The House deal also faces opposition in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., has said he will do what he can to kill the House compromise or any other measure weakening the 38-year-old Cuba trade embargo.

The House measure was sponsored by Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash. Mr. Nethercutt said he had a clear majority in favor of ending food embargoes and demanded an opportunity to vote on the issue when the House considered its farm spending bill.

House leaders, led by Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, opposed any relaxation of the Cuba trade embargo and said they would use the House rules to keep Mr. Nethercutt's proposal from coming to a vote.

The leadership was forced to back down in the face of overwhelming House support for Mr. Nethercutt's proposal.

The two sides negotiated a compromise that was heavily influenced by Florida Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, both long-standing foes of Cuban President Fidel Castro. They inserted into the compromise the travel restrictions and the bar on U.S. credits.

Mr. Nethercutt, the Chamber of Commerce and the Farm Bureau called the compromise a breakthrough in the Cuba trade embargo.

The proposal has not come to the House floor for a vote, however, and now appears likely to be added to the House farm spending bill in a House-Senate conference committee.

The Senate voted 70-28 last year to end the ban on food sales, but House leaders let the issue die by refusing to schedule conference committee sessions to consider the measure.