Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon returned from a trade mission to Cuba Wednesday with high hopes the state’s farmers will find an export market there.
“This is a country that imports about 50 percent of its food right now,” said Nixon, who spoke to reporters on a conference line from Miami. “They have not yet moved toward modern, productive agriculture at anything near the same level as farmers and ranchers in Missouri.”
Nixon rattled off a long list of products he thinks could be sold in Cuba: soybeans, corn, rice, beef, dairy, poultry, hogs, cotton, wine and biodiesel.
He also thinks as the U.S. continues to normalize relations with Cuba, there could be an opening for Missouri automakers.
“A significant portion of the vehicle stock there is very, very old,” Nixon said. “They’ve had to replace those engines with diesel engines, so we see great opportunity for Missouri manufacturing in the long run.”
Nixon said while he appreciates there are many human rights issues to untangle before Missouri can resume trade with Cuba, he remains optimistic the island nation can again be a major export market for the state.
“This did not feel like any militaristic-type of regime,” he said of his visit, which included a meeting with Cuban Vice President Ricardo Cabrisas.
This week the Cuban government accepted a 20-ton shipment of rice grown in the Bootheel. It was sent as a gift, though Nixon acknowledged that there were challenges to overcome when it came to getting payment from Cuba. The nation is considered an unstable financial market and banking is difficult there.
“Until we get that problem solved, you’re not going to have the confidence it takes for bilateral trade,” he said.
Missouri exported $13.6 billion dollars in products last year. That’s a 43 percent increase since Nixon took office in 2009.
Elle Moxley is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.