Thank you for yielding, Mr. Chairman.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to publicly congratulate my friend and colleague, Mr. Tanner, on his becoming Chairman of this Subcommittee. I look forward to working with you in your new capacity.
Today we’re exploring the possibility of expanded trade with Cuba. I’m open to loosening some restrictions on Cuba. Specifically, I support normal financing for food and medicine sales to Cuba. I’ve also been willing to consider more liberalized travel rules to facilitate these particular transactions. I suspect other Members have different views—some willing to go farther; some unwilling to consider any liberalization whatsoever.
Where I think we all agree, however, is that we must resolve the over six billion dollars in expropriation claims that our Federal Settlement Claims Commission has certified before developing a more robust economic relationship with a post-Castro democratic government in Cuba. How these claims will be addressed is critical not only because it makes policy sense, but because U.S. law (Helms-Burton) requires the exercise. We are fortunate that one of our witnesses today is a principal author of a USAID-funded report that analyzes the outstanding claims and proposes a mechanism for their resolution. I’m eagerly anticipating Professor Kelly’s testimony.
More broadly, however, I’m a little surprised to be talking about Cuba while we appear to be unable to have a public discussion on exploring the possibility of expanding trade with democratic allies in the region, like Colombia. President Obama and Democratic leaders have argued that the time is not right for the Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement because Colombia has not made enough progress on labor and human rights issues. They have said we need benchmarks, but after over a year in office, neither the Administration nor the Congress, which has had even more time, has developed them. I would welcome an opportunity to focus on the benchmarks against which Colombia’s progress on stamping out violence will be measured.
Let’s look at the facts on the ground in both countries. The International Labor Organization has reported on Cuba’s labor policies, and it is not pretty. Cuban labor law violates basic ILO principles with respect to the right to strike and bargain collectively, and Cuba has not even ratified the ILO core convention on the prohibition of the worst forms of child labor. By contrast, Colombia has ratified all eight ILO core conventions. Moreover, the ILO recently commended Colombia for its progress in protecting labor rights.
Beyond my surprise, I have a bit of unease. While U.S. trade policy should create incentives for countries to improve their policies, I worry about a possible double standard being promoted—that trade with Cuba could be fine, but trade with Colombia is a problem. I am concerned about the geopolitical signals we send when we devote time and resources toward the consideration of overtures toward Chavez-ally Cuba while at the same time we continue to allow U.S.-ally Colombia to twist in the wind.
And beyond my surprise and unease, I’ll admit to some confusion. Many say that increased trade with Cuba makes sense because it represents a big market in our own backyard. However, Cuba’s GDP is one-fourth that of Colombia’s with a population that is also one quarter that of Colombia’s. Furthermore, the independent, nonpartisan U.S. International Trade Commission found that the United States is already Cuba’s most competitive agriculture supplier in terms of price, quality, and delivery terms.
Finally—and this may actually be the most important point—Cuba’s not all that interested in trading with us. Even in sectors in which Americans are allowed to trade with Cuba, like agriculture, distortions abound as a result of the politically motivated import practices of Cuba’s state-trading enterprise. Although President Obama liberalized telecommunications trade with Cuba, our U.S. telecom companies haven’t yet rushed in because, in their view, the costs and risks of dealing with the Cuban regime outweigh any marginal economic benefit. The economic climate in Cuba is simply intolerant – in fact, Cuba is ranked virtually dead last in the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom. As our Secretary of State said earlier this month, the Castros “do not want to see an end to the embargo and do not want to see normalization with the United States, because they would then lose all of their excuses for what hasn’t happened in Cuba in the last 50 years.”
So, it looks to me like we’re flirting with an unwilling dance partner. If we are looking for new customers, it would seem to me that we should direct our attention to other, bigger nearby markets with governments that have extended themselves to us.
Mr. Chairman, I yield back.