Cuba has agreed to purchase up to $10 million worth of farm products including potatoes, apples, and dairy cattle from Maine producers, Gov. John Baldacci said Thursday.
“This agreement shows the importance of increasing our reach across state and national boundaries to enable Maine agricultural producers and other businesses to gain new markets,” Baldacci said in a written statement.
Baldacci announced the agreement during a breakfast speech to Maine business hosted by the World Affairs Council. The announcement came at the end of a trade mission to Cuba involving representatives from the state’s potato, apple, dairy, cattle and maple syrup industries.
The delegation sent to Cuba included Agriculture Commissioner Robert Spears, former Gov. Kenneth Curtis, Doyle Marchant, president of Cedar Spring Agricultural Company, and agricultural growers and producers from around the state.
State officials hoped the mission eventually would lead to contracts producing more than $1 million in sales to Cuba. They were not expecting to sign contracts.
Ned Porter, deputy agricultural commissioner, said the news was promising for Maine’s agricultural producers.
“I hope it’s the start of a long-term trading relationship that benefits both parties,” he said. “Maine growers will do their best to put their best foot forward.”
Four decades of trade sanctions against Cuba have been tightened under the Bush administration, but Cuban officials are optimistic that President Bush in his second term will start heeding requests from U.S. business interests and lawmakers—particularly those from farm states—to ease restrictions.
Under an exception to the sanctions, American agricultural goods can be sold to Cuba on a cash-only basis. Since the island began taking advantage of the exception in 2001, it has contracted to buy more than $900 million in farm goods.
While individual companies in Maine have visited Cuba to investigate export opportunities, the trip was described as the state’s first coordinated effort.
Maine exported $309.7 million in food and agricultural products in 2003, primarily to Canada, which accounted for $217.2 million of that total, according to the Maine International Trade Center.