LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - On Friday, President Donald Trump unveiled his plans to change the current policy with Cuba by re-instituting travel and business restrictions with the country.
But that recent announcement could have an impact on Arkansans's economy.
Currently, Arkansas is the leading rice producer in the United States and Cuba is the second largest importer of rice in the world. For more than five decades, Cuba was off limits for Arkansas farmers, but the Obama administration eased restrictions on the country's trade and travel in 2016.
Many rice farmers in the state were overjoyed at the possibility to export to Cuba, a country that mainly imports are rice and chicken.
“It is potentially a very large market for us”, said Jeff Rutledge, President of the Arkansas Rice Council. "It has the potential to be about 140,000 metric ton market. You can do the math to figure out the dollar amount."
That's roughly around $70 million farmers could have made from Cuban imports.
"They could be the third largest market for us as far as exports go," Rutledge said.
While that policy won't directly affect rice imports and exports, they could have a potential impact through tourism.
President Trump has banned individual self-directed travel to Cuba.
"If you're cutting off tourist dollars flowing in to that country, that will eventually be used to buy our products, then they don't have those funds to buy our products anymore," Rutledge said.
Essentially, without American tourists, Cuba would need to import less rice.
When Obama introduced the policy changes, some Arkansas legislators supported the easing of restrictions on Cuba, including U.S. Senator John Boozman. On Friday, Boozman criticized the president's decision, calling it a "step backward."
"It would be more effective to continue an open line of communication and working relationship with a bad government in need of democratic assistance, instead of shutting them out," the senator said.
But all the details of President Trump's policy aren't clear yet, so Rutledge is hopeful the president is listening and said he's not giving up hope.
Representative Rick Crawford has also written a bill to remove the agricultural trade barriers between the U.S. and Cuba.
He currently has 37 co-sponsors and is lobbying for more support.
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