Enabling Americans to travel to Cuba and expand already legal export operations is an important first step to reforming U.S. policy toward the island nation. For five decades, unilateral sanctions and a ban on travel have allowed the Cuban regime to blame their own economic mismanagement on the United States. The Cuban dictatorship could never have withstood a half century of free trade, free markets, and free enterprise. The embargo has helped prop up the Communist regime, and at the same time has denied U.S. companies access to the Cuban market, while bolstering third-country competitors.

Prior to the embargo, the United States accounted for nearly 70 percent of Cuba’s trade. Cuba was the seventh-largest market for U.S. exporters, particularly U.S. farmers and ranchers. Facilitating agricultural exports to Cuba would restore the natural competitive advantage of U.S. agricultural products in Cuba. A March 2010 study by Texas A&M University indicates that easing restrictions on agricultural exports and lifting the travel ban, as proposed by H.R. 4645, could result in up to $365 million in additional sales of U.S. goods with a total economic impact of $1.1 billion and create 6,000 new jobs in the United States.

This bill is an important first step toward a policy more likely to bring change to Cuba and commercial benefits to the United States. In a letter sent this week to all members of the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Chamber said it would consider giving a Key Vote designation to the legislation should it reach the House floor. It is a rare step for the Chamber to send this signal on a piece of legislation that is still in committee, and the move conveys two things: one, the strength of the U.S. Chamber’s conviction regarding the transformative power of free enterprise and its promise for Cuba; and, two, the seriousness of purpose and sense of possibility that pervades this legislation at this moment — a seminal moment for the U.S. and Cuba.