By Marc Frank | Reuters
HAVANA - U.S. agribusiness, shipping and farm representatives lauded two years of trade with Cuba Monday and called for an end to sanctions on the Communist-run nation as they negotiated contracts for the new year.
“The Cuban market represents a great opportunity for U.S. agriculture ... Cargill supports normalizing relations between our two countries,” Thomas Rahn, a senior executive with the world’s largest privately held agribusiness, said at the opening of a conference to mark the anniversary.
James Sumner, president of the U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council, said Cuba was now the sector’s 8th market.
Some 250 Americans are attending the conference, the largest gathering of U.S. business interests in the island since a U.S. agriculture trade show in September of last year.
The United States amended the more than four-decades-old embargo on Cuba in 2000 to allow agricultural sales for cash. Cuba began buying American farm products in December 2001.
Pedro Alvarez, chairman of Cuba’s state food importer Alimport, promised his company would sign $125 million in contracts for delivery in 2004 during the event.
Cuban government sources said President Fidel Castro would most likely host a dinner for the Americans to close the conference Wednesday evening.
“Cuba purchased $4.4 million in food for cash in 2001, $165.9 million in 2002 and 304.7 million through November 2003,” Alvarez said, adding final sales could reach $325 million this year.
That would make the United States Cuba’s 8th or 9th trading partner. Cuba reported the United States was its 10th-ranked commercial partner in 2002.
Alvarez said up to 40 percent of Cuba’s bulk-food purchases this year, mainly grain, cereal and poultry, would come from the United States. Canada and Europe dominated the market until 2002.
Alvarez said if relations were normalized with the United States his country could receive U.S. tourists and export, earning revenue which in part would be used to increase U.S. food and other imports.
President supports the embargo and has vowed to veto any further loosening of trade and travel restrictions.