JASON STRAZIUSO | Associated Press
PHILADELPHIA - A Pennsylvania trade delegation returned from Cuba with contracts for cattle and apples after a five-day trip that included an eight-hour lobster-tail lunch with Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
The delegation, the first from a northeastern state to sign an agriculture trade agreement with Cuba, signed contracts for 100 heifers from Tunkhannock-based Ag-Link International and $15,000 worth of apples from Aspers-based Cohen Produce Marketing.
Sandy Cohen, president of the produce company, said executing the “symbolic” contract would give experience for larger future deals.
“I think the potential not only for us, but the opportunities there in general, are wide open,” Cohen said.
Cuba invited a delegation to return for more trade talks, and trip leader Pamela Ann Martin, president of Molimar Export Consultants, said she was planning a trip in June that could include state legislators.
Gov. Ed Rendell also was invited by Cuban officials, Martin said. Rendell spokeswoman Kate Philips said the invitation would be considered but that no discussions had yet taken place.
Agriculture trade with Cuba has expanded greatly since a 2000 law allowed exceptions to the four-decade-old U.S. trade embargo. Last week trade talks with 150 American companies netted $106 million of food sales.
Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff, who traveled with the delegation, said the two signed contracts were good for an initial meeting. An agreement saying Cuba would be willing to import $10 million worth of goods was also signed, though Wolff said trade the next several years could be worth more than that.
“It looks like there is a lot of potential,” Wolff said. “We’re working through the details now.”
That agreement also called for state officials to ask Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation to endorse lifting the embargo. Wolff has said state officials will do that.
Along with the contracts for cattle and apples, three letters of intent for trade were signed, Martin said.
A highlight of the trip was an eight-hour lunch with Castro that followed an hour meeting. The lunch included lobster tail, buffalo milk and Chilean wine - and political and agricultural talk.
“For the head of state to spend nine hours with a delegation from Pennsylvania, I find that amazing,” Cohen said. “We were walking out of there thinking, ‘Did this really happen?’”