The leader of an association of top U.S. state agriculture officials said Wednesday that his country may want to take advantage of ongoing reforms in Cuba, possibly through investments.

“It appears that a new Cuba is emerging and may represent a path toward greater collaboration,” Ted McKinney, executive director of the Association of State Departments of Agriculture, told Reuters at an agricultural cooperative on the outskirts of Havana.

Cuba is mired in its worst economic crisis in decades, causing shortages and rising prices of food, medicine, fuel and other basic products.

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The communist country is slowly implementing market reforms in response.

The cooperative was the last stop of a five-day visit by top agricultural officials from seven states, who met with President Miguel Díaz-Canel and others and visited several sites.

The United States has maintained comprehensive sanctions against Cuba since Fidel Castro’s 1959 Revolution.

Ted McKinney, executive director of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, listens to a Cuban farmer

Ted McKinney, executive director of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), listens to a Cuban farmer during a visit by NASDA members to an agricultural cooperative outside Havana, Cuba, on February 21, 2024. (REUTERS/Norlys Pérez)

However, in 2000 Congress authorized agricultural sales to Cuba in exchange for cash that to date have amounted to more than $7 billion.

Commissioners from Louisiana, Indiana, South Carolina, Michigan and Montana told Reuters at the cooperative that they felt Cuba was changing. They cited the emergence of more than 10,000 non-agricultural small and medium-sized businesses in the past two years, some linked to agricultural supply and food processing.

“The trend is positive,” said Hugh Weathers of the South Carolina Department of Agriculture.

Don Lamb of Indiana said he saw Cuba’s emerging private sector as “interesting and exciting.”

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Cuba has also opened its agricultural sector, which for decades has included some 200,000 private farms and thousands of cooperatives, to foreign investment.

To date, no US investment has been authorized, but some have begun to arrive from other countries.

McKinney said it was not the states’ role to pass bills, but that commissioners would brief lawmakers and federal agencies on the market’s potential.

By Sam