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Posted November 02, 2003 by publisher in Cuba-US Trade

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By ANITA SNOW | Associated Press Writer

HAVANA - Florida fruit juices and North Carolina turkey are among products American companies are showing off in Cuba this week as they press to sell more farm products to the communist island.

Grouped inside a stand at the International Fair of Havana, opening Sunday afternoon, the 71 American firms from 18 states and Puerto Rico hope their displays will persuade Cuban officials to buy more under an exception in a 42-year U.S. trade embargo.

“We’re hoping to sell more apples, grapes, pears, and dried fruits,” said Miguel Mauricio, president of the Florida Produce, a Tampa, Fla.-based wholesale fruit and vegetable company.

The trade fair, which runs through Nov. 9, 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 Thursday, the Senate voted 59-36 to bar the use of government money to enforce current travel restrictions. The House last month also voted to ease travel restrictions, but the White House has threatened a veto and recently moved to step up enforcement of the travel ban.

This year’s American presence doesn’t compete with the number of U.S. firms that took part in a U.S. food and agricultural exhibition held here a little more than a year ago. It featured 288 exhibitors from 33 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

But it’s more than the one or two American companies that have signed up for this fair in past years. The growing U.S. presence shows that American firms want to keep selling and Cuban officials want to keep buying, Mauricio said.

“We welcome all American companies wanting to sell,” Pedro Alvarez, president of the Cuban food import company Alimport, said Saturday.

The fair will feature products from more than 600 companies from about 50 nations. American exhibitors include the USA Rice Federation; Carolina Turkey of Mt. Olive, N.C., and Splash Tropical Drinks of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Alvarez said that over the next week Cuba hoped to sign contracts to buy more than $50 million more in American farm products, including cereals and livestock.

Initially, Cuba refused to buy “a single grain of rice” under a 2000 law that legalized the direct sales of America farm products to the island.

However, when U.S. officials offered Havana aid after Hurricane Michelle hit the island in late 2001, Cuban officials saw it as a goodwill gesture. They declined the aid, but said they would buy American food under the law to replenish depleted stockpiles.

Since then, Cuba has bought U.S. farm products, forming business relationships and hoping their new commercial partners will push the American government to end its trade sanctions against Cuba.

As of Nov. 1, Cuba had contracted to buy nearly $463 million in American farm goods over two years, Alvarez said.

He said it was unknown if President Fidel Castro (news - web sites) would visit the fair, as he visited the American food exhibition last year. “Many of the Americans here have asked that the president visit,” Alvarez said.

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