ALBANY — Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced new agricultural trade partnerships between New York and Puerto Rico to strengthen both the Puerto Rican economy and the ties between the two communities as Puerto Rico continues to recover and rebuild. The Governor pledged to help Puerto Rico rebuild their agriculture and food supply systems, and work with local farmers, the University of Puerto Rico, and other partners to provide technical assistance and expertise to rebuild the industry. Ten months after the devastation of Hurricane Maria, agricultural trade between New York and Puerto Rico is rapidly growing with the expansion of New York-grown apples, cabbages, and onions into Puerto Rico and watermelon, mangoes, and pumpkins grown in Puerto Rico becoming available in New York. Conservative estimates say these agricultural trade opportunities will exceed well over $1 million in economic benefit to both New York and Puerto Rico.
The Governor made the announcement while in Puerto Rico leading a delegation of SUNY and CUNY presidents and students, as well as nonprofit partners, labor leaders, and elected officials, to support the ongoing efforts on the island. This trip marks the Governor’s fifth trip to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricanes Maria and Irma, and part of the third deployment of SUNY and CUNY student volunteers since the initiative began.
“The people of Puerto Rico are our brothers and sisters and in the face of the federal government’s ongoing neglect, New York will continue to do everything in our power to help them rebuild their economy,” Governor Cuomo said. “This agricultural partnership will create opportunities for local farmers, stimulate economic growth, and help this vital sector recover, and will further strengthen the ties between Puerto Rico and the great state of New York.”
As established in the Build Back Better report assessing the hurricane damage, Hurricanes Irma and Maria severely impacted Puerto Rico’s agricultural sector, primarily made up of small, family-owned farms, with approximately 80 percent of the crop value destroyed, a loss of nearly $250 million to the Puerto Rico economy. The destruction of planted crops caused a loss of locally grown foods, limiting nutritional options, driving up food costs and contributing to food insecurity. In addition, over 2.2 million animals were lost to the storm and the agricultural infrastructure experienced damages in excess of $1.8 billion. This represents 40 percent of the total value.
As with Puerto Rico’s other rebuilding efforts, New York State is committed to helping Puerto Rico rebuild their agriculture and food supply systems stronger than before. Governor Cuomo will launch a comprehensive, targeted effort to work with local farmers, the University of Puerto Rico and other partners to assess immediate needs, provide technical assistance for short-term solutions and develop a strategic plan to bolster the agricultural industry, support food security and grow Puerto Rico’s economy. As part of this initiative, the Governor will convene a team of experts, led by Commissioner Ball, that will meet with partners at SOMOS.
These actions will focus on:
- increased trade and exchange of food and agricultural commodities between Puerto Rico and New York,
- co-ventures in food innovation
- food security for underserved populations and exploring the development of food banks
- collaboration on best practices in food and beverage safety, as well as, standards and technical guidance for food safety.
Caribbean Produce, Puerto Rico’s largest produce distributor, has thus far imported 186,200 pounds of apples from across New York – including Rome, Empire, Red Delicious, Gala, Snap Dragon and McIntosh apples from New York Apples Sales and Hudson River Fruit. Caribbean Produce has also imported 126,000 pounds of cabbage from Torrey Farms in Elba, Genesee County and 84,000 pounds of onions from Minkus Family Farms in New Hampton, Orange County, with plans to import New York-grown potatoes, carrots, turnips, beets, and more produce. Caribbean Produce is currently distributing Red Jacket Orchard juice from Geneva, Ontario County. Hudson River Fruit, Red Jacket Orchard and Minkus Family Farm are all a part of the State’s New York State Grown & Certified program.
New York has imported 100,000 pounds of seedless watermelons from Finca González and Soto Farms in Guánica, Puerto Rico, sold at retail in the Hunts Point Terminal Market in the Bronx, with additional containers planned in the weeks and months ahead. Caribbean Produce will soon export tropical pumpkin to New York from Finca Gonzalez, as well as mangoes from Gan Eden Farm in Santa Isabel. By conservative estimates, these partnerships will generate well over $1 million in economic impact in both New York and Puerto Rico in the long term.
Gan Eden Farm was one of the working sites for State University of New York Maritime, SUNY Albany and SUNY ESF students deployed as part of Governor Cuomo’s NY Stands with Puerto Rico Recovery and Rebuilding Initiative to assist with recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
These partnerships are made possible by the New York State Office of Trade and Tourism opened by Governor Cuomo in November 2015 in Old San Juan. NYSOTT promotes mutually beneficial tourism opportunities and strengthens economic ties between the state and the island. NYSOTT also operates the New York State Discovery Center, a Taste NY and I LOVE NY store promoting New York-made and produced products. The distribution of Saratoga Spring Water, Asarasi Sparkling Tree Water and Roxy Mountain Maple Products in Puerto Rico also builds on a number of initiatives announced by Governor Cuomo in September 2015 designed to help Puerto Rico expand its economy and foster a mutually beneficial economic development relationship between Puerto Rico and New York State, including opportunities for business and technology development, agriculture, energy and infrastructure.
New York State and Puerto Rico have been actively engaged in conversations to grow and expand trade opportunities between New York businesses and Puerto Rico and vice versa.
These actions build on the Agriculture Trade Forum announced by Governor Cuomo in September 2016, during which representatives from business, government and agriculture came together to find opportunities to facilitate trade, expand markets, and grow the economic impact of agribusiness and agritourism in New York and Puerto Rico. The forum laid the groundwork for future co-ventures between New York producers and manufacturers in Puerto Rico, creating opportunities for New York State retailers to carry Puerto Rico foods and expand Puerto Rico’s exotic foods market, which is in demand with more than 1 million Puerto Ricans residing in New York State.
“We’re proud to continue to work with our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico to help them rebuild and recover, and that includes reviving the agricultural economy across the island,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “New York is further strengthening our partnership with Puerto Rico, providing assistance to farmers and establishing new trade opportunities to boost the economies of both Puerto Rico and New York.”
President and CEO of Caribbean Produce Exchange Ángel Santiago said, “This initial phase of the agreement will allow for New York trade locations to feature fresh topical produce from Puerto Rico for all consumers to enjoy. We plan to offer and expand our year-round produce exchange adding other agricultural categories to export and import from New York as well. We look forward to continue strengthening this commercial relationship looking to promote bilateral economic growth and agribusiness development in Puerto Rico and New York.”
Empire State Development President, CEO, and Commissioner Howard Zemsky said,“We’re forging important economic partnerships between New York and Puerto that connect businesses to new markets and new opportunities for growth. After the devastation of Hurricane Maria, economic bridges are more critical than ever as we work together to help our friends and neighbors in Puerto recover and rebuild. These collaborations generate much-needed business in the short-term and also lay the foundation for fruitful, long-term partnerships that pay dividends for agribusiness in both New York and Puerto Rico.”
State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said,“The Department was so pleased to be a part of the Governor’s Agriculture Trade Forum several years ago, where we had meaningful, positive conversations with our friends in Puerto Rico about the opportunities to work together. Today, while we stand strong alongside Puerto Rico during their recovery, I am proud to see that those discussions are now resulting in actions that will not only provide a boost to their rebuilding efforts but also be the bridge to new markets for New York growers.”
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. said, “The Bronx is home to more Puerto Ricans than any other borough in New York City, and we must do everything we can to support our brothers and sisters as they continue to rebuild and recover from Hurricane Maria. I applaud Governor Cuomo for his leadership on the entire Puerto Rican recovery effort and his commitment to rebuilding the agricultural economy in Puerto Rico. Our economies in the Bronx and in Puerto Rico are improving because of these trade opportunities between the island and the Hunts Point Terminal Market, and these partnerships will continue to strengthen the bond between us and help both communities flourish.”
Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, Chair, Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force, said, “Once again Governor Cuomo is showing true leadership and friendship for Puerto Rico. This latest effort by the Governor will strengthen the island’s agriculture industry and help provide greater economic opportunities for farmers by working hand in hand with local partners, including a planned summit at SOMOS. I am proud to again join the Governor on a trip to rebuild Puerto Rico and I look forward to seeing this comprehensive plan help build a stronger, better island and economy for generations of Puerto Ricans.”
New York Stands with Puerto Rico Recovery and Rebuilding Initiative
The Governor made the agricultural partnership announcement while in Puerto Rico as part of the Recovery and Rebuilding Initiative. In April 2018, Governor Cuomo announced the launch of the NY Stands with Puerto Rico Recovery and Rebuilding Initiative, deploying a Tactical Assessment Team of state experts and labor, non-profit, philanthropic, and academic partners to evaluate reconstruction needs and to develop a comprehensive rebuilding roadmap for communities in need.. The Governor convened a roundtable with local partners and Tactical Assessment Team members to launch the new initiative and to discuss New York State’s ongoing efforts to help Puerto Rico build back better.
While on this trip, Governor Cuomo announced major milestones accomplished through the initiative. To date, 90 homes have been cleaned, restored, and rebuilt across the island, indicating that New York State is well on its way to reaching its goal of 150 homes renovated through the initiative. So far, over 400 student and labor volunteers have dedicated more than 25,000 hours to the initiative, and with two major deployments remaining, New York State will have mobilized more than 500 student volunteers and over 100 skilled labor volunteers to assist with recovery and rebuilding efforts this summer.
As part of the NY Stands with Puerto Rico Rebuilding and Recovery initiative, student volunteers deploy for two weeks at a time and have the opportunity to earn college credits for their work. Volunteers with the New York Building and Construction Trades continue to deploy in one to two week waves throughout the summer. In addition, UNICEF USA has committed funding to support this effort.
The ongoing deployments follow the second phase of the initiative launched on April 29, in which the Governor deployed a Tactical Assessment Team to develop a comprehensive rebuilding plan for the island. The Assessment Team’s findings continue to guide the deployments throughout the summer. Three prior deployments on July 15, July 1, and June 17 each included more than 100 SUNY and CUNY students and volunteers, and over 25 skilled labor volunteers.
New York’s Efforts to Support Puerto Rico
Governor Cuomo continues to build on New York State’s efforts to assist Puerto Rican families in New York who were forced to flee their homes after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. Last month, as federal rental assistance was set to expire at the end of June, the Governor directed the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance to establish a $1.2 million program to provide robust housing case management services to displaced Puerto Ricans, and directed the Department of Labor to provide up to $10 million in job training and placement funding to community based organizations.
The Governor also announced last month that the SUNY Board of Trustees and CUNY Board of Trustees would be extending in-state tuition for students displaced by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The extension of the authorization will allow students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to attend stated-operated colleges for the 2018-19 academic year at a lower cost to ease the burden as their families recover from the devastation following these natural disasters. In the spring 2018 semester, approximately 50 displaced students took advantage of the in-state tuition rate at SUNY colleges and 200 displaced students at CUNY colleges.
Since Hurricane Maria’s landfall in September 2017, Governor Cuomo has traveled to Puerto Rico four previous times and continuously directed critical resources to communities in need. In the immediate aftermath, New York established the Empire State Relief and Recovery Effort, ultimately distributing at least 4,400 pallets of supplies collected from 13 donations sites across the state. New York State also deployed more than 1,000 personnel, including hundreds of utility workers and power experts to help with power restoration and grid stabilization.
Governor Cuomo and the New York Congressional Delegation continue to advocate for Puerto Rico to receive necessary federal aid. In December, Governor Cuomo and Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló, along with members of the New York Congressional Delegation, released a Build Back Better Assessment Report. The report identified specific sectors needing investments, including housing, power grid and resiliency, agriculture, and others. Together with $487 million for public safety and first response aid and $9 billion for long-term recovery management, the total funding need is $94.4 billion.
For more information about the recovery and relief efforts underway in Puerto Rico, and to learn how you can assist, please visit the Governor’s Empire State Relief and Recovery Effort for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands webpage.
–The Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
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