US Exported $600M in Agricultural
Products to Cuba in 2007
Remains Cuba's Top Food Source
[despite 50 year trade embargo]
by Will Weissert, Associated Press
The United States remained Cuba's main
supplier of food and farm products in 2007, selling the communist-run
island more than $600 million in agricultural exports despite
its trade embargo, a top official said Monday.
Cuba imported roughly the same amount
of agricultural products as it did in 2006, but rising production
and transportation costs forced it to spend $30 million more than
the $570 million it paid two years ago for the same goods, said
Pedro Alvarez, chairman of Cuba's food import company Alimport.
Alvarez's comments came during a joint
news conference with California Secretary of Food and Agriculture
A.G. Kawamura, who is in Cuba on a trade mission and is hoping
America's largest food-producing state can one day sell as much
as $180 million in agricultural products to the island. It was
the state's first agricultural mission to Cuba.
Washington's nearly 50-year-old trade
embargo prevents U.S. tourists from visiting Cuba and prohibits
nearly all trade. But a law passed by the U.S. Congress in 2000
allows the Cuban government to buy U.S. food and agricultural
products with direct cash payments.
Cuba at first balked at the measure, but
reversed course after a hurricane ravaged parts of the island
in November 2001. The government has since spent more than $2.7
billion on U.S. farm products and the related shipping and banking
expenses that it factors into import totals, Alvarez said.
The U.S. has been the island's top food
source since 2003.
U.S. companies in 35 states ship roughly
1,600 types of agricultural products to Cuba, Alvarez said, declining
to specify which state is its top supplier, or which product its
top import. U.S. wheat, chicken and soy are big sellers, he added.
California produces 400 types of farm
products, including wheat, wine and all types of fruits, vegetables
and nuts. Kawamura said it exports about a quarter of that produce,
but sends less than $1 million in goods a year to Cuba.
"That's a very small amount of money
compared to the rest of the states that are doing business here,"
Kawamura said, noting that a study by his office found $180 million
in Californian products that could potentially be exported to
Kawamura was accompanied by owners of
some top California agricultural firms, who are negotiating private
contracts directly with Cuban authorities. He also planned to
meet with government officials and tour state-run farms.
Agricultural secretaries from 19 states
have visited Cuba, although Kawamura is the first from California
to do so.
"The door's already been opened.
There's plenty of business being done here," he said. "Some
of us arguably might be late getting here, but we're here."