Posted on Tue, May. 22, 2007
North Dakota seeks agreement to ship potatoes to Cuba
By WILL WEISSERT
Associated Press Writer
North Dakota wants to ship potatoes to Cuba, and was looking Tuesday for
ways to get them to this Caribbean island without spoiling.
Representatives from two potato producing companies and state experts on
plant diseases and potatoes were meeting with top representatives from
Alimport, Cuba's food import company.
"If we can begin sales of North Dakota potatoes and do it in a way that
gets them down here in good shape, that would be a very successful trade
mission because we've been talking about it for five years and so far it
hasn't happened," said Roger Johnson, agriculture commissioner for the
Washington's 45-year-old embargo forbids American tourists from visiting
Cuba, and chokes off most trade between the two countries. But direct
sale of U.S. food and agricultural products began in late 2001 and
continues despite some bureaucratic hurdles.
So far, Cuba has spent more than $2.2 billion on American food and
agricultural imports, including shipping and hefty bank fees to send
payments through third nations. North Dakota has sold about $30 million
worth of products to the communist country, mostly peas, as well as
garbanzo and lentil beans.
Since 2004, tighter U.S. restrictions have required the island to pay
for goods in full before they leave American ports.
Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter traveled to Havana last month to discuss
shipping his state's potatoes to Cuba. That trade mission resulted only
in a single agreement for an Idaho company to send $100,000 worth of
boneless pork legs here, and Idaho officials said any agreements to ship
spuds or seed potatoes hinge on a future visit to the state by Cuban
Cuba traditionally produces sweet potatoes, but the island's warm
climate makes such crops especially susceptible to blights and pests.
Those same diseases can affect potatoes arriving from the U.S., and
American trade restrictions sometimes create shipping delays that can
make highly perishable potatoes go bad en route.
"The uncertainty shipping, given the ports and all the (U.S. government)
rules, that's an enormous concern," said Johnson, who was on his sixth
trip to Cuba.
A longtime critic of U.S. trade sanctions, Johnson said North Dakota
officials want to build long-term business relationships in Cuba.
"In my judgment, it won't be long before the embargo's going to be
lifted," he said. "I don't know anyone who really in their heart or in
their mind can make a case for continuing it."