President Barack Obama’s decision to reinstate diplomatic relations with Cuba was met with mixed reactions politically but launched a frenzy in the private sector for US companies seeking to stake a claim on a potentially lucrative new market. For those in the food and agricultural sectors, however, Cuba has long been within reach.
Cuba is one of five countries—including Iran, Sudan, Syria, and North Korea—against which the US has levied the most comprehensive economic sanctions. These embargoes include bans on almost all financial transactions and means of trade, with obvious precautionary targets such as arms, chemicals, and nuclear materials. Humanitarian exemptions for the donation of food and agricultural products have been written into these policies. The Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancment Act, passed by President Bill Clinton in 2000, created similar exceptions for these goods.
Even with these economic restraints, millions of dollars of exports have been sent from US companies to embargoed nations. Obtaining a license from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control is the only prerequisite. Predictably, demand for these exceptions has spurred its own sub-industry of consulting and law firms that assist companies in obtaining these licenses. Here we explore some of the more significant agricultural and food exports to embargoed countries.