ND to Benefit from Restored Diplomatic Relations with Cuba

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North Dakota may seem like it's a world away from Cuba, but President Barack Obama's plans to restore diplomatic relations that could shorten that distance in a few ways.

It's about 2,000 miles from Bismarck to Havana, but North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring says that North Dakota is one of the closest geographical providers of some crops to Cuba. And, with the goal of better relations between the U.S. and Cuba, North Dakotans might see more of the island nation.

The wheat fields on the prairie don't remind us of a tropical island, but what's growing here might end up in a Cuban food market.

North Dakota has sold dry beans, peas and lentils to Cuba despite an embargo from 1960.

Goehring says, "When ag has that much affect on your economy and impact, you're gonna see that anytime we open up new markets, as we do more, things are gonna happen."

Goehring has visited Cuba on trade missions multiple times, but he says negotiations fell apart on his trip in 2010 because of political pressure from the Cuban government.

But this week, President Obama called for lighter restrictions on the nation of about 11 million people.

If it's easier to trade with Cuba, Goehring says the state's agriculture sector could see a huge increase in exports.

"It might actually create opportunities for financing and credit options that would make it a better playing field for North Dakota to do business in Cuba," said Goehring.

With easier trade, North Dakota can also export secondary goods like, corn, soy beans and vegetable oils and funnel money back into the rural economy.

"I believe North Dakota's is going to benefit in a very big way, not only for those farmers but for our rural communities and for that workforce that's employed here in North Dakota," says Goehring.

And it's not only the ag sector that could see a boost from improved relations.

Travel companies are working to get licensing to begin approved trips there.

TripAdvisor says it has seen almost four times as many hits to its website from Americans interested in Cuban travel.

But, Cuba is still far from becoming the tropical getaway it was in the early 20th Century.

"I think the interest is there but people are waiting to see where this will all go," says Cheryl Fenster, Northland Travel.

Northland travel hasn't booked any trips to Cuba just yet, but Fenster says that could change. "You can do a 'people-to-people,' where you can see what the people are doing and it's more of an educational tour, not really a beach-type, relaxing sort of vacation," explaines Fenster. "And, once they start maybe allowing some of that, where people are more free to go on their own, we would see a lot more interest in that."

Which would put Havana on the map as another winter getaway spot.