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Free trade with Cuba

REP. CHARLES B. RANGEL | 1/29/2015, 11:05 a.m.
I was in Havana and witnessed firsthand the jubilation in the streets as President Barack Obama announced to the world ...
Charles Rangel

I was in Havana and witnessed firsthand the jubilation in the streets as President Barack Obama announced to the world the United States would renew diplomatic relations with Cuba after 50 years of strained relations. I am glad we are finally overturning a policy that has not worked for the past 50 years, and I will be assisting the president in this transition of our relations with the Caribbean nation through my long-standing legislation that will bring our countries closer together.

Since 1993, when I first introduced the Free Trade With Cuba Act, I have recognized the long-term and unnecessary effects of prolonged isolation between the two countries. Our outdated policy formed during the Cold War era to diminish and weaken the Caribbean nation economically did not work. The repercussions of our stalled relations have had the largest impact on both the American and the Cuban people and businesses because economic sanctions rarely, if ever, work.

I am optimistic about ushering in a new era of diplomacy that will allow the United States Congress to lift the embargo with Cuba and start exchanging our goods, culture, values and services. A renewed relationship is a great chance to create opportunities for Americans to do business with Cuba. For example, New York City is home to the second largest Cuban community in the United States, making it a breeding ground that could lead to boosting our local economy and creating jobs in the long run.

The United States Chamber of Commerce is one of the strongest supporters of ending the embargo, which estimates it could create 6,000 American jobs and restore $1.2 billion annually to the U.S. economy. The economic embargo stifles an extra $250 million in potential annual exports of fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides and tractors. Ultimately, ending the embargo will, in addition to creating an estimated 6,000 American jobs, generate billions of dollars in revenue.

Recent polls indicate strong support among Americans—both Republicans and Democrats, nationally and among Cuban-Americans—for closer diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba. A poll by the Atlantic Council from February 2014 shows that this support crosses party lines: 52 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of Democrats favor more engagement with Cuba, and 56 percent of Americans support engaging more directly with our island neighbor.

Congressional support is needed to make this engagement a true reality. This time, 25 of my Democratic colleagues in the House have joined me in introducing my Free Trade With Cuba Act. This bill would lift the economic embargo and allow American and Cuban businesses to work together to generate economic opportunities between our nations. For example, only 5 percent of Cubans have access to the full Internet. Under this legislation, telecommunications companies would have the opportunity to create American jobs to establish pathways for Cubans to have access to the Internet.

Soon, I will also re-introduce two of my other Cuba-related bills, the Export Freedom to Cuba Act of 2015, which would lift travel restrictions, and the Promoting American Agricultural and Medical Exports to Cuba Act of 2015, which removes sanctions restricting agricultural and medical trade with Cuba. Lifting these barriers will facilitate a $380 million trade relation.

All of these bills are aimed at encouraging modernization of our foreign policy and strengthening our economy through diplomacy. We know that the embargo has failed. I applaud the president for taking new and bold steps toward openness. Commercial and economic engagement is the best way to exchange cultures, ideals and beliefs that would encourage a more open and free society.

Rep. Charles B. Rangel is serving his 23rd term in Congress, representing New York's 13th Congressional District, which includes Upper Manhattan and parts of the Bronx. He is the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade.