By Marc Frank | Reuters
HAVANA - The United States jumped to seventh place among Cuba’s commercial partners in 2003, as the long-time enemies’ food trade increased due to a loosening of the four-decade-old U.S. embargo in 2000, the island’s Foreign Trade Minister said on Monday.
“The list of the 10 countries that accounted for 72 percent of our trade last year are Venezuela, Spain, China, Canada, the Netherlands, Italy, the United States, Mexico, France and Russia,” Raul de la Nuez said in an interview with the official business weekly Opciones.
In 2000, the U.S. Congress loosened the U.S. trade embargo imposed after President Fidel Castro’s 1959 communist revolution to allow the sale of agricultural products for cash. By 2002 the United States was Cuba’s 10th trading partner.
De la Nuez said Cuba imported more than 300 different U.S. agricultural products in 2003, valued at $343.9 million.
“In 2003, soybeans, soy oil, corn, wheat, and rice, were the largest agricultural commodity exports from the United States to Cuba,” said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which monitors American business with the Caribbean island.
“Last year Cuba ranked in the top 30 of 224 worldwide markets for agricultural products from the United States,” he added.
Cuba’s trade increased 13.2 percent last year from $5.5 billion, de la Nuez said, with imports up 11.6 percent over 2002’s $4.1 billion, and exports up 18 percent from $1.4 billion.
Trade fell 14 percent in 2002, the government reported.
The United States ranked 5th on the list of countries from which Cuba imports, behind Venezuela, Spain, China and Italy, but ahead of Havana’s long-time trading partners Canada, Mexico and France.
“It is rather astonishing that in a mere 26 months, the United States has moved from nothing to Cuba’s largest single source of agricultural and food products; fifth-largest source of imports; and seventh-largest overall trading partner,” Kavulich said.
The food purchases have led to a growing lobby in the United states to broaden trade and travel with Cuba.
Both houses of the U.S. Congress passed amendments to government spending bills last year that further loosened trade and travel restrictions, but the measures were dropped in conference under pressure from the Bush administration.