CHARLESTON, S.C. - A trade delegation led by Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer is in Cuba this week for talks on getting Cuba to buy South Carolina agricultural products.
Three years ago, the United States loosened its 42-year-old embargo on trading with Cuba to allow shipments of food, agricultural goods and medicine to the island nation of 11 million.
Bauer and the delegation arrived Wednesday for four days of talks.
Besides Bauer, Agriculture Commissioner Charles Sharpe, state Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, and executives of Charleston-based Maybank Shipping are in Cuba.
They met Wednesday with Pedro Alvarez Borrego, the chairman and chief executive officer of Alimport, Cuba’s government-run food import agency.
The state delegation hopes to sign an agreement to sell agricultural goods including cattle, peaches and poultry.
The delegation is “excited about forging new relationships to foster the export of agricultural goods from South Carolina,” Bauer said before leaving.
In all, 34 states produce goods for export to Cuba, said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. The New York-based nonprofit group provides research for U.S. businesses wanting to trade with Cuba.
Several states in the Southeast are trading with Cuba. Alabama ships dairy cattle while Georgia sends poultry and Florida exports everything from seafood to fruit.
It was just a matter of time before South Carolina joined in, said College of Charleston political science professor Doug Friedman, who has studied Cuban politics and has traveled there with the college’s study-abroad program.
“South Carolina is an agricultural state. Certainly, it sees itself as sort of losing out on a market that is a natural fit,” he said. “It would be good for small farmers, which are hurting in this state.”