- Associated Press - Sunday, March 27, 2016

MONROE, La. (AP) - A Louisiana congressman says he wants the state to quickly become a trading partner with Cuba once the U.S. finishes normalizing relations with the island nation.

Republican U.S. Reps. Ralph Abraham of Louisiana and Rick Crawford of Arkansas are traveling to Cuba on April 6 with agriculture producers from both states, The News Star reports (https://tnsne.ws/1RxZJib ).

“We want to be first in the gate,” Abraham said.

Meryl Kennedy Farr, whose family is one of the largest rice growers in the state, is among those going on the trip. Farr said trade with Cuba has long been a top goal for the U.S. rice industry.

Scott Franklin, whose family grows and stores rice in northeastern Louisiana, called the trip by the congressmen “the most important trade mission of my lifetime.”

“It would be a home run for the rice industry,” Franklin said. “It would give us a tremendous market that we desperately need.”

President Barack Obama completed a trip to Cuba last week.

Abraham said Cuba is 36 hours away from the New Orleans port, and he wants to talk to Cuban officials about details of shipping and distribution.

“It’s not as glamorous as the president’s trip, but we want to go to the port, explore the logistics and certainly talk with people who would be receiving the goods,” Abraham said. “It’s a chance to establish relationships. There’s going to be a lot of competition, so we want to leverage our advantages early.”

Farr agreed, saying she wants to better understand the needs and concerns of potential trade partners in Cuba.

“It’s not going to happen tomorrow, but we need to be part of the conversations now to lay the groundwork for the future,” she said.

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