Like global bloodhounds, US exporters know how to sniff out new markets, no matter how small.
Their desire for trade can often compete with other US interests in compelling Washington to deal with old adversaries, such as Vietnam, China, Iran, and lately, North Korea (Coca-Cola arrived there last week).
Now their latest target is Cuba. With a population of only 11 million very poor people, Cuba yearly buys about a million tons of wheat - mostly from France - and about 350,000 tons of rice, much of it from Asia.
So why should 38 years of US economic sanctions against this former Soviet ally and 90 miles of ocean prevent American exporters from selling that grain to Cuba?
This week, Congress takes up that issue, the same week that little Elian Gonzalez is likely to return to his homeland with his father. In fact, the public tug of war over Elian helped soften up the public mood for better ties with Cuba. It exposed the power of the Cuban-American lobby - which now battles with the farm lobby over a House vote on the sanctions.
But are Americans ready to warm up to the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, a Communist who abhors both democracy and a market economy?
Sanctions are an awkward diplomatic weapon, but in slowly reducing sanctions on Cuba, the US might see if Mr. Castro is ready to reciprocate. President Clinton should lay out a road map of steps that would provide incentives for Castro to change. If he releases political dissidents, for instance, Cuba could have more trade.
Most of all, lifting restrictions on spending dollars in Cuba might bring more Americans to the island and have more influence than wheat sales.
In increasing trade, the US runs the risk of strengthening Castro's grip. Carefully done, however, trade can become the carrot that replaces the stick of sanctions. Trade has its uses, but not just for trade.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society