HAVANA, CUBA — As part of U.S. President Barack Obama's trip to Cuba, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on March 21 several measures that will foster further collaboration between the U.S. and Cuban agriculture sectors. The two neighboring countries share common climate and agriculture related concerns, and the measures announced today in Havana will mutually benefit the Cuban people and U.S. farmers and ranchers.

While in Cuba, Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will allow the 22 industry-funded Research and Promotion Programs and 18 Marketing Order organizations to conduct authorized research and information exchange activities with Cuba. These groups, which are responsible for creating bonds with consumers and businesses around the world in support of U.S. agriculture, will be able to engage in cooperative research and information exchanges with Cuba about agricultural productivity, food security and sustainable natural resource management.

Vilsack called the announcement "a significant step forward in strengthening our bond and broadening agricultural trade between the United States and Cuba."

“AFIA is pleased with Secretary Vilsack's announcement today that USDA will allow Research and Promotion Programs and Marketing Order activities in Cuba,” said Joel G. Newman, the American Feed Industry Association’s (AFIA) president and chief executive officer. “This is the first step to the U.S. industry better understanding the Cuban market and to sharing vital information and expertise with Cuba on agriculture production. Once existing regulatory and financial hurdles and restrictions have been lifted, this foundation of knowledge sharing and relationship building will serve in providing greater opportunities for U.S. feed and pet food products to Cuba."

During their bilateral meeting on March 21, Vilsack and Cuban Minster of Agriculture Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero signed a memorandum of understanding that establishes a framework for sharing ideas and research between the two countries. Vilsack also has invited Rodriguez to join on a visit to one of USDA's Climate Sub Hubs in Puerto Rico in late May, where USDA researchers are studying the effects of climate change in the subtropical region and strategies for mitigating these effects.

Devry Boughner Vorwerk, Chair, U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC) said, "U.S. Agriculture Coalition is proud to be on the ground in Cuba in tandem with USDA continuing to forge industry to industry partnerships during the President Obama's historic visit. We applaud Secretary Vilsack for his leadership on advancing U.S.-Cuba agricultural relations and are pleased that the two countries have signed a groundbreaking MOU in agriculture. We are especially pleased that farmer-funded checkoff dollars can now be used to facilitate relationships in country. USACC continues to support USDA's effort to place staff on the ground in Cuba."

"Recognizing the importance of agriculture in the United States and Cuba, USDA is advancing a new partnership for the 21st century between our two countries," said Vilsack. "U.S. producers are eager to help meet Cuba's need for healthy, safe, nutritious food. Research and Promotion and Marketing Order Programs have a long history of conducting important research that supports producers by providing information about a commodity's nutritional benefits and identifying new uses for various commodities. The agreements we reached with our Cuban counterparts on this historic trip, and the ability for our agriculture sector leaders to communicate with Cuban businesses, will help U.S. agricultural interests better understand the Cuban market, while also providing the Cuban people with science-based information as they grow their own agriculture sector."

The National Grain and Feed Association said, "The NGFA believes strongly in normalizing agricultural trade relations with Cuba, including arrangements under which Cuba can finance its purchases of U.S. agricultural products on normal commercial terms. While full normalization of trade ultimately will require congressional action, the steps announced today by Secretary Vilsack to promote cooperative research and information exchange activities with Cuba are another positive step forward along the journey to that ultimate destination."

Richard Wilkins, the American Soybean Association’s (ASA) president said, "Today's announcement is a big step forward in terms of expanding the Cuban marketplace for U.S. soy. The important thing to remember about checkoff funds is that they're farmer dollars -- they belong to producers to do with as best they see fit to grow their industries. Because this is the farmers' money, it's only logical that we as farmers ought to be able to use it to expand whatever markets we see as the most promising for our individual commodities."

This historic visit to Cuba is the first by a sitting U.S. president in nearly 90 years. It is Vilsack's second visit.