U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is in Cuba right now. Embargo or no.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is in Cuba right now. Embargo or no. - 
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U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is in Cuba, meeting with Cuban officials and touring ports and markets. It’s the first official U.S. agriculture department visit since 1961.  

But Congress is showing no signs of lifting the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. So how much can Vilsack, or the White House, really accomplish with the embargo still in place? 

For starters, you may not know this, but the embargo does allow humanitarian exports of things like food and medicine to Cuba. But if it were lifted altogether, U.S. agricultural exports would increase to $1.2 billion a year. That's according to Parr Rosson, an agricultural economist at Texas A&M University.

Rosson maintains that Cuba would still be a small market. So why is it so attractive?

“Forbidden fruit,” he said.

And Rosson said remember: Cuba is close.

“Transportation costs, loading and unloading charges would be fairly small and that would allow us to be more competitive,” he said.

But we still have to lift the embargo, right? Not necessarily, said Julia Sweig, author of the book, “Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know.”

Swieg said President Obama could authorize more exports by executive order.

“If he could claim it to be in the interest of supporting the Cuban people, or in the American national interest,” she said.

Sweig said President Obama has already authorized U.S. companies to build cell phone towers in Cuba.