Cuba trip points to potential trade
From pork to spuds, future looks bright
Patricia R. McCoy
Capital Press Staff Writer
Fifty-four metric tons of boneless pork legs will leave Idaho for Cuba
in June, a direct result of the state's second trade mission to the
island nation last week.
There are hopes for seed, frozen and perhaps even fresh potato purchases
in the future as well.
The pork leg contract is worth over $100,000 to Independent Meats, Twin
Falls. Company officials are optimistic about future sales, according to
an announcement from the office of Gov. Butch Otter.
Otter led the delegation of 35 government, business and other leaders.
Seed potato shipments are contingent on arranging for visas for Cuban
officials to visit Idaho and conduct the normal phyto-sanitary
inspections required by all nations for shipping agricultural products,
said Frank Muir, president and chief executive officer of the Idaho
A buyer who met with the Idaho delegation is very interested in frozen
shoestring french fries for restaurants and hotels, so the IPC office
will be inviting frozen processors to look at the opportunity and put in
a bid for that business, said Muir, who traveled with the delegation.
"Potatoes are part of their subsidized food program, which gives every
Cuban a monthly allocation of groceries," he said. "Right now they're
growing what they can, with seed potatoes imported primarily from
Canada, Holland and France, but they don't have the right growing
conditions to produce spuds in large amounts.
"They're very interested in U.S. seed, and Idaho especially, because of
our quality reputation," he said.
Muir and Pat Kole, IPC legal counsel, visited a market during an early
morning run and saw potatoes there, giving them a good idea of what
Cubans now eat. They met several times with Pedro Alvarez, chairman and
CEO of Alimport, the official Cuban importer, and his aides, and toured
a potato farm, although it was after harvest so they saw no plants.
"Down the road, as we build relationships, there may be opportunities
for tablestock potatoes," Muir said.
There will be challenges to exporting product to Cuba, he said. The
United States does not have a full open trade relationship with that
nation. Shipments are heavily restricted, but food is allowed.
It was the second visit to Cuba by an Idaho trade delegation, following
up on another trip 3 1/2 years ago. During the first visit, Cuban
officials promised to buy $10 million worth of Idaho products. A
shipment or two of frozen potatoes was included as part of that, Muir said.
"Our hope now is to build on that, and help the Cubans meet their
commitment to us," said Muir.
Dairy industry participants have hopes for powdered milk, and there are
hopes for other pork and beef products, said Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow,
chairman of the House Agricultural Affairs Committee.
The trade team was Trail's second visit to the island nation. He went
there four years ago as a tourist to attend an Ernest Hemingway conference.
"That trip gave me a totally different perspective. It was much less
structured than a formal trade delegation like this was. We saw a lot
more of the country and talked to a lot of farmers and people on the
streets," he said.
"They were very friendly, and perfectly willing to talk about
everything, including politics. One thing that may be a little startling
is that we saw no military and very few law enforcement people around.
Those we saw were unarmed," he said. "They have one of the lowest crime
rates in Latin America."
While on this trade mission, Trail attended a half-day presentation on
Cuba's public health system, touted as the finest in Latin America by
the United Nations. He was also at a special evening banquet with
Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban National Assembly.
Other members of the delegation at that small dinner were Gov. Otter and
his wife, Lori; and Celia Gould, director of the Idaho State Department
of Agriculture and her husband, Bruce Newcomb, retired Speaker of the
"Mr. Alarcon was very interesting. He lived in New York City for 14
years as Cuba's ambassador to the United Nations, so speaks excellent
English. He told us Fidel Castro does not have cancer, but is ill with a
serious stomach infection following surgery. He explained the Cuban
National Assembly is headed by a seven-member leadership council. When
Castro dies, that council will meet and decide on who will be
president," Trail said.
"Alarcon is third in line, behind Fidel's brother, Raoul Castro, and
could be the eventual successor," he said.
Trail advocates normalizing relations with Cuba.
"Our nation's attitude toward Cuba is a double standard. We began
trading years ago with the former Communist nations in Europe and Asia,
recognizing that doing so would bring free market forces into play," he
said. "If we did that in Cuba, that nation would completely change
within five to 10 years. A lot of their own politicians say the same."
Pat McCoy is based in Boise. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.