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Posted November 29, 2003 by publisher in Cuba-US Trade

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Idaho Statesman

LEWISTON — Although the U.S. Senate recently slammed shut a bid to open the doors of tourism and trade with Cuba, Northwest farmers continue to wedge open a market there for wheat and legumes.

Farmers in Idaho and Washington expect to sell about 10,000 metric tons of lentils, and a smaller amount of dry peas and chickpeas, to Fidel Castros communist nation this year. That represents more than $2 million in sales.

That is about the same amount that was shipped to Cuba last year, said Tim McGreevy, director of the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council in Moscow.

“We still have to jump through quite a few hoops through the State Department and the Commerce Department, getting approvals for export licensing and shipping licensing above and beyond the usual commercial business we do,” McGreevy said.

Northwest farmers have been pushing to repeal the embargo that has been in place against Cuba since 1960, when Castros government took over.

Before Castro, Cuba was this countrys largest buyer of dry peas and lentils, and in the top five customers for wheat. Since that time, however, Cuba has been buying peas and lentils from Canada and wheat from Australia.

Through the efforts of Idaho and Washington congressmen, the embargo was eased slightly last year, allowing for the first shipment in 42 years of peas and lentils to Cuba in June 2002.

McGreevy said no credit has been extended to Cuba, so all purchases are being made on a cash basis.

James McDonald, a Grangeville-area farmer who serves on the U.S. Wheat Association board of directors, said Cuba also is buying some hard red wheat from the United States, but most is not raised in the Northwest.

“Theres not a lot we can change, because once you lose a market from an embargo, it takes you an awful long time to get it back,” McDonald said.

U.S. Rep. Butch Otter of Idaho is planning a trip to Cuba, possibly in March, with Sen. Larry Craig, to try to encourage diplomacy and trade between the two countries.

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