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Posted February 16, 2005 by publisher in Cuba-US Trade

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Cuba became the United States’ 25th-largest agricultural export market in 2004 with food purchases jumping 55 per cent, despite a decline recently as always tense relations deteriorated further, a report released yesterday showed, reports Reuters.

“With the completion of the 2004 data, Cuba’s purchases of $391.9 million ranks the country as the 25th largest agricultural market for US companies, compared with 35th in 2003, 50th in 2002, and 144 in 2001,” said John Kavulich, president of the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

The New York-based organization monitors trade between the two countries and issues an annual summary based on US government data and other sources.

The food sales began in December 2001 under an exception to the four- decade trade embargo that allows agricultural exports for cash, a total of $792 million to date.

But despite the 55 per cent increase, the report is sure to worry farm groups as it showed sales declined 30 per cent the last four months of 2004, compared with the same period in 2003.

The first such decline since sales began followed new US measures that further restricted travel and family remittances to the Communist-run island just 90 miles south of Florida.

Cuban officials have repeatedly warned they cannot keep increasing their purchases at the same time as Washington denies them the cash to do so, while promising sales could double and triple if sanctions were loosened further.

Cuba reported it imported more than $1 billion in agricultural products last year.

US farm groups have lobbied the US Congress hard over the last few years to defend and expand their new market amid increasingly harsh rhetoric from both side.

The Bush administration has branded Cuba an “outpost of tyranny” that needs to be liberated and President Fidel Castro recently called US President George W. Bush “deranged” and his government “fascist.”

Kavulich said he doubted the decline was related to sanctions as Cuba continued to express interest in purchases and the political clout they brought.

“The fourth quarter decline has more to do with Cuba’s requirements and commodity pricing than with the punitive actions,” Kavulich said.

Rice, corn, chicken, wheat, soybeans, powdered milk and other soy and wheat based products accounted for around 90 per cent of the sales last year, the council reported, the remainder composed of everything from fruit, vegetables and spices to other meats, supermarket items and wood- based products.

“There are approximately fifteen companies accounting for perhaps 90 per cent of total yearly exports; with perhaps three of those companies (Illinois-based Archer Daniels Midland Co. ADM.N , Minnesota-based Cargill and Iowa-based FC Stone) accounting for 70 per cent,” Kavulich said.

The Council reported Louisiana ports moved 49 per cent of the business last year, followed by ports in Alabama, Texas, Florida, and Georgia.

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco is scheduled to visit Cuba in March.

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