U.S. food sales to Cuba remain strong
By Marc Frank
7:54 a.m. February 14, 2007
HAVANA – Communist Cuba remained one of the more important markets for
American farmers in 2006 despite a decades-old trade embargo, a
U.S.-based organization that tracks the sales said Wednesday.
U.S. food exports to Cuba totaled $340.4 million last year, placing Cuba
34th out of 227 agricultural product export markets, the U.S.-Cuba Trade
and Economic Council reported, based on U.S. government export data.
That is a slight dip from $350 million in 2005 and $392 million in 2004,
the council said, with total sales to Cuba exceeding $1.5 billion since
they began five years ago.
The United States was the top exporter of food to Cuba in 2004 and 2005.
The figures for 2006 are not yet available.
The council has monitored the cash-only sales since they were approved
by Congress in 2000 as an exception to the trade embargo imposed on Cuba
after Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution.
Castro temporarily handed power to his brother and Defense Minister Raul
Castro on July 31 after undergoing abdominal surgery, and he is still in
U.S. businessmen report it has been business as usual since July,
perhaps with a little less political grandstanding.
"At the trade fair this year we just quietly signed contracts without
the usual hoopla and press conferences," a U.S. trader involved in the
business for years said, asking not to be named.
With Democrats now in control of Congress and the belief by some
lawmakers that Castro's stepping aside provides an opportunity for
improved relations, a number of bills have been introduced that would
loosen trade and travel restrictions.
The Bush administration opposes the measures.
"Despite all the tough talk between the two governments, Cuba has paid
American farmers $1.5 billion since George Bush went to the White
House," said Julia Sweig, an expert on Cuba at the Council on Foreign
Relations think tank in Washington.
"This is a significant wedge in the door of the embargo, a door that may
well swing wide open if the Congress gets rid of the travel ban and
Americans start flocking to the island," she said.
Cuba has said the slight decline in purchases since 2004 was due to the
Bush administration's steps to tighten restrictions on travel to Cuba
and regulations covering payment for Cuban purchases.
The trade council's senior policy adviser, John Kavulich, said that was
"The approximately 3 percent decrease in agricultural commodity and food
product exports from the United States to Cuba in 2006 was expected due
to Cuba's increasing reliance upon countries which provide commercial,
economic, and political support to Cuba, specifically Venezuela, China,
and Vietnam," he said.
Wheat, chicken, corn, rice and soy products accounted for more than 70
percent of U.S. sales to Cuba in 2006, following a similar pattern in