The House Agriculture Committee approved legislation that aims to make it easier to sell fresh apples and other U.S. agricultural products to Cuba.

The bill — which must be passed by both the House and the Senate and signed by the president before becoming law — would remove travel restrictions and make financial transactions between U.S. and Cuban banks easier.

“I am proud to say that today the House Agriculture Committee took a courageous vote to end the short-sighted and failed policy that limits American agriculture’s access to the Cuban market,” said committee chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., a news release.

More than a 100 groups expressed support for the bill, according to the release, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“We have tried to isolate Cuba for more than fifty years, and it has not worked,” Peterson said in the release.

“As it has in other countries, perhaps increasing trade with Cuba will encourage democratic progress.”

Cuba imported $525 million in U.S. agricultural goods in 2009, down from $689 million in 2008, but fresh fruits and vegetables are minor imports.  

Apples were the 15th-ranked commodity exported to Cuba in 2009, with sales of $2.04 million, compared with $1.8 million in 2008. Other fresh produce exports in 2009 included grapes ($368,000) and pears ($62,000).

Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association, Fishers, N.Y., said any move toward free trade will benefit apple growers.

“I think it is encouraging to see it moving in this direction,” he said. “I think it is time we relaxed those barriers and allow free access to that area.”

New York has moved minimal volume of apples to Cuba in recent years, but he said North Carolina, Virginia and Pennsylvania have shipped some fruit there because of a closer proximity to ports.

“Every apple that goes across the ocean is good for everybody,” Allen said. He said Cuba’s market prefers red and golden delicious apples, and tends to be price sensitive.