By MITCH STACY | Associated Press Writer
A trade consultant hopes a load of frozen chicken bound for Cuba on Friday will be the first of regular monthly food shipments from the Port of Tampa to the island nation.
The 1.5 million pounds of poultry transported by Caribe Services could mark the beginning of the first regular Tampa-to-Cuba cargo shipments since the United States installed a trade embargo more than four decades ago, said Daniel J. Fernandez, president of U.S.-Cuba Trade Consultants.
Cuba has bought more than $460 million in American goods in the two years since a law legalized the direct sales of farm products to the communist nation. Most of those shipments originated from other ports, including Jacksonville and Gulfport, Miss.
“This venture will represent the first time Tampa’s federal waterways will be consistently used to transport commodities (to Cuba) in over 42 years,” Fernandez said Thursday as a crane moved the boxed cargo onto the freighter H.F. Salhman.
“That is - in my estimation - huge,” he said. “And it’s a beginning.”
He said the monthly shipments from the government-owned Port of Tampa could have an economic impact on the area of $100,000 per month and open up the market to Tampa Bay area businesses.
The chicken deal was brokered by Fernandez and Michael Mauricio of Florida Produce of Hillsborough County Inc. with Cuban food import company Alimport. Mauricio was among representatives of 71 American firms who displayed their wares at a food show in Havana last week.
He said he hopes to start shipping fruits and vegetables to Cuba from the Port of Tampa, allowing him to save money by moving his products into town by rail instead of semi truck to other ports.
“It’s time for us to take advantage of something we have not done, and that is to recognize that there is an ability for us to export more than we are out of our own port,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Frank said. “And it means we can use producers who are in the area. ...This means jobs for people and it means money in our economy.”
The announcement comes as Congress is trying to open Cuba to American travelers, a move that goes against both White House efforts to enforce a travel ban and the U.S. policy of isolating the communist country.
On Wednesday, though, negotiators working on the 2004 funding bill for the Treasury Department bowed to the wishes of President Bush by agreeing to eliminate a clause meant to let Americans travel more freely to the Caribbean island. That move drew criticism from the Cuban government.