by Jennifer Hasvold | The Chronicle Online
The future for trade relations with Cuba is looking sweet. Cuba’s state-based import company announced last week that it is considering opening up its sugar market to P.S. International, a trading company based in Chapel Hill.
“We have been fortunate to be able to do a limited amount of business with Cuba during the past 18 months,” said Dave Kuntarich, vice president of operations. P.S. International has been allowed to export some agricultural products of U.S.-origin under limited government-issued licenses.
Over the last two years, the U.S. government has been removing restrictions and allowing the limited initiation of business relations between companies in the United States and buyers in Cuba. P.S. International is awaiting the approval of a license to export sugar to Cuba.
Cuba’s sugar production has dwindled since the imposition of the U.S. trade embargo in 1960 and was also hard-hit by the collapse of the Soviet Union, its major trading partner. Its former sugar production levels of 7 million tons per year have been reduced to 3.57 million tons in 2002.
Cuba, a once-lauded sugar producer, began retiring mills last year in an effort to boost efficiency. The country’s Sugar Ministry reported that 2.47 million acres of land formerly used for growing sugar cane were being put to other use, such as production of different foods.
“We are very pleased to have the opportunity to begin supplying customers in the country of Cuba. Our customers in Cuba have been also working very hard to ensure the development of trade is encouraged and sustained,” Kuntarich said. “We look forward to trade between our two countries continuing to grow.”
The strengthening of business relations between Cuba and the U.S. is historically significant because Cuba’s economy has been subject to stringent government regulation since President Fidel Castro’s Communist regime came to power in 1959.
“On the political side the embargo that has been implemented has been sort of a scapegoat for Castro,” said graduate student Mike Hoffman, who teaches American International Economic Policy. “He doesn’t account for the fact that his economy is controlled by the government.”
Hoffman said that Cuba’s need to import sugar may indicate that the embargo has negatively impacted the nation’s agriculture and production due to restrictions on importing technology like farm machinery.
“If we were trading with Cuba we would be a huge component of their importing and exporting—leaving us off their map is a pretty serious dent,” Hoffman said.