Agricultural trade with Cuba is increasing, but it will be some time before it gets substantial imports from South Dakota, according to two participants on a trade mission to the communist country.
Aberdeen lawyer Jeff Sveen and Frederick farmer John Sumption were part of an 18-person group that went to the island nation in March on a trip organized by the South Dakota Value-Added Agriculture Development Center.
Sveen and Sumption said political problems will keep South Dakota and Cuba from being big trading partners in the near future, but the long-term potential is better.
For the most part, the United States cannot trade with Cuba, the result of a trade embargo. But there are exceptions made for agriculture.
As a representative of Dakota Turkey Growers, a group of Hutterite colonies who will open a turkey processing plant in Huron next year, Sveen hoped to ink a deal to send turkey to Cuba.
Sumption said he was looking at the possibility of working with others to ship wheat, soybeans and/or corn to Cuba.
Ag trade with Cuba is not simple. Cuban ships cannot dock at American ports. So the commodity must be shipped out to the ocean and eventually transported to a Cuban vessel. But before that happens, the American seller must be paid. And that has to go through a foreign bank. Americans must be paid before the product changes hands.
Sveen said the process seems to discourage transactions and make things difficult for Cuba.
Cubans don’t eat a lot of meat, the local men said. And what they do eat is rather low-quality, mostly ground turkey, pork or chicken.
Cuba is interested in beef, Sumption said, because it has a thriving tourist industry and those people want to eat beef.
Most Cubans, Sveen said, don’t make enough money to be able to afford beef.
The trade delegation met with representatives from Alimport, Cuba’s equivalent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Cimex, basically a government-owned food agency.
“They really want us to open up the embargo,” Sveen said, adding that many Cubans blame U.S. policies for their economic hardships.
Said Sumption, “They really know their markets - what we should deliver and that they should pay to get it there.”