By Scott Rothschild | Journal-World
Topeka — Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has signed a joint communique with Cuba’s largest food importer, hoping to increase trade between Kansas companies and the island country.
Under the deal, the Empresa Comercializadora de Alimentos, also known as Alimport, will spend $10 million on Kansas agricultural products.
In return, Kansas state government will try to promote business opportunities in the Cuban market and encourage normalization of trade relations between the United States and Cuba.
The communique is nonbinding, but signals an intent by both sides to do business, said Patty Clark, director of the agricultural marketing division of the Kansas Department of Commerce.
The accord could have been made without Sebelius’ participation, but the governor wanted to sign it “to add weight and influence to the negotiation process on behalf of Kansas companies,” Clark said.
Pedro Alvarez, chairman and chief executive of Alimport, hailed the communique, which was signed by Sebelius on Dec. 9, but not publicly announced by the Sebelius administration. The Journal-World learned of the agreement when it was announced by Cuba’s Radio Rebelde.
Clark said the agreement was similar to others the state has pursued with other countries, such as Taiwan.
She said the $10 million figure was a benchmark, and Alimport could exceed it.
The communique was worked out after three trips by state officials and Kansas agricultural producers to Cuba and Mexico to build relations with Alimport, Clark said.
Kansas products, such as wheat and flour, already have been exported to Cuba since some trade restrictions were relaxed with Cuba in 2001.
The communique calls on state officials to encourage the Kansas congressional delegation to repeal remaining trade and travel restrictions with Cuba, and to help secure visas for Alimport guests to travel to Kansas.