ANITA SNOW | Associated Press
Farmers brought California vegetables, North Carolina turkeys and Arkansas rice to Cuba’s annual trade fair Monday, showing that Americans are still hungry for the communist country’s market despite U.S. rules that make trade difficult.
More than 300 representatives of 171 American firms confirmed they would attend the International Fair of Havana, which runs through Saturday, said Pedro Alvarez, head of the Cuban food import company Alimport.
“We have a larger American participation this year despite the restrictions,” Alvarez said as he toured the Expo Cuba fairgrounds on Havana’s outskirts. “But the (Bush) administration has created serious obstacles for small and medium-sized companies.”
Cuba has been under an American trade embargo for more than four decades, but a law passed by Congress in 2000 allows American food to be sold directly to Cuba on a cash basis. For the past four years, Cuba has contracted to buy more than $1.4 billion in American farm goods, including shipping and hefty bank fees to send payments through third nations, Alvarez said.
Nevertheless, he said sales have remained relatively stagnant since last year because of recent U.S. regulations that require Cuba to pay for the goods in full before they leave American ports. Cuba paid $474 million to buy American farm goods last year, including transportation and banking costs, compared with $409 million for the first 10 months of 2005, Alvarez said.
“But by the end of the year we hope to purchase an amount equal or slightly superior to that of the previous year,” he added.
Marvin Leherer of the USA Rice Federation, which markets and promotes U.S. rice domestically and abroad, said American rice sales to Cuba this year have been down a bit, “mostly because of the problems with the terms of payment” created by U.S. rules.
“It’s definitely made things harder,” Leherer said as he set up the Rice Federation’s booth at the fair.
But rice farmers are determined to keep selling to Cuba because it is a key future market, Leherer added.
“This is a huge market for rice. We have to be here,” he said. “Cuba imports as much or more than Mexico with just one-tenth of the people.”
Other American companies with booths at the fair included agribusiness giants Cargill Inc. and Archer Daniels Midland, as well as poultry producer Gold Kist Holdings Inc. and Del Monte Foods Co., a producer of canned and packaged fruits, vegetables and tuna fish.
Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman was due in Havana later Monday to attend the fair and shore up contracts totaling $30 million that he set up on a trip in August. Of that, only $2.5 million in great northern bean sales has been completed. The beans are to be shipped to Cuba in November.
Cuba is also expected to finalize purchase of 300 cows from the northeastern U.S., primarily Vermont.
Other countries represented at the fair include Canada, France, Spain, Venezuela, Brazil, China and Vietnam.
ON THE NET
International Fair of Havana: http://www.cepec.cu/ingles/fihav3.htm