BY VANESSA ARRINGTON | Associated Press
Pedro Alvarez, left, president of Alimport, Cuba’s state food company, and Naples rancher John Parke Wright, managing director of J.P. Wright & Co., read the fine print before signing an agreement that will have Wright send 100 head of dairy cattle to Cuba. JOSE GOITIA/AP
Cuba formally agreed Monday to buy 100 head of American dairy cattle, worth $300,000, and $10 million in wheat and meat products from the southern United States, launching a round of deals for U.S. farm products projected to reach $150 million.
Signed during a major international trade fair in which American businesses played a starring role, the announcements came on the eve of a U.S. presidential election whose outcome could alter relations between the two countries.
‘‘We’re all committed to cooperation,’’ said rancher John Parke Wright of J.P. Wright & Co. “What we represent are good relations, fellowship and free and open trade.’’
Wright’s Naples ranch is to ship the cattle to Cuba from Vermont. The $10 million deal was with Louis Dreyfus of Georgia for wheat, chicken and pork.
Other U.S. companies with stands at the weeklong International Fair of Havana included Archer Cargill of Minnesota, Daniels Midland of Illinois and Tyson Foods of Arkansas. Together, those agribusiness giants have made a large percentage of the American farm sales since 2001, when Cuba began taking advantage of an exception to the U.S. trade embargo that allows the transactions on a cash basis.
Supporters of the sales on both sides of the Florida straits were closely watching the lead-up to today’s elections for clues about future trade.
Democratic contender U.S. Sen. John Kerry has said he will maintain more than four decades of trade sanctions against Cuba if elected president. Still, many here believe changes in U.S. policies toward Cuba to be likelier with him in power. President Bush has steadily tightened restrictions on the island nation.
Over the past three years, Cuba has contracted to buy more than $900 million in U.S. farm goods, including shipping and hefty bank fees to send payments through third nations.
As of Sept. 1, U.S. food producers had received $704.3 million from Cuba for the cumulative deals, minus the extra costs, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.