Wednesday, December 14, 2005 10:30 AM CST
Taking an historic and welcome step toward further normalization of grain trade between Cuba and the U.S., this morning (Dec. 14) Cuba’s food buying agency committed to purchase half a million tons of U.S. wheat in the next calendar year.
Representatives from U.S. Wheat Associates, the industry’s export market development organization, arrived in Cuba on Monday morning (Dec. 12) and were greeted warmly by the leadership of Alimport, the Cuban government’s official food importers. By Tuesday (Dec. 13), the two groups agreed to cement deepening trade relations with a formal Letter of Intent. In a moving ceremony held in Havana, they signed the letter, spelling out the terms of the pledge.
“Recognizing the quality of the U.S. wheat and related products, as well as the professional performance of American wheat growers and processors, Alimport hereby undertakes to purchase 500,000 metric tons of wheat from American exporters in 2006,” the letter states. The purchases are subject to competitive pricing, delivery and other applicable terms.
U.S. Wheat Associates, led by president Alan Tracy, has been a strong advocate through the years for normal trade relations with Cuba. The Letter of Intent recognizes USW’s long-standing position, as the parties agree to “work together to help expand Cuba-U.S. bilateral commerce and lift the current U.S. restrictions that affect trade and travel with Cuba, a valuable market for U.S. food products.”
The document was signed by Leonard Schock, USW vice chairman who is a wheat producer in Montana, and by Pedro Alvarez Borrego, chairman and CEO of Alimport. Tracy and USW vice president Vince Peterson witnessed the signing.
Wheat producers back in the states warmly welcomed the news.
“Trade relations between Cuba and the U.S. wheat industry have been steadily progressing since Cuba’s first purchase in November 2001,” said former USW chairman Keith Kisling, an Oklahoma wheat farmer who has made several trips to Cuba to promote U.S. wheat. “This purchase commitment is a very important – and greatly appreciated – boost to U.S. wheat exports.”
“Just as important, for the long-term, this document is a testament to the power of trade in establishing a human dialogue that can hopefully act as a counterpoint to some ill-advised political strategies which are still mired in the tired rhetoric and failed policies of yesteryear,” Kisling said.
The U.S. wheat industry has been working for the last decade to establish relations with Cuba. In coordination with member state wheat commissions, USW initially facilitated wheat flour donations in the mid-1990s through humanitarian groups working in Cuba. Following a series of meetings between USW and Cuban officials over a three year period, Cuba was ready to purchase U.S. wheat in 2001.
Cuba has become the largest U.S. wheat customer in the Caribbean, purchasing 1.6 million metric tons of U.S. wheat since trade resumed. They primarily buy hard red winter wheat and, in 2004/05, only five other countries in the world purchased more HRW than Cuba. They have also purchased some hard red spring and durum.