Minnesota ag leaders head to Cuba
By Scott Wente , State Capitol Bureau
Published Wednesday, March 26, 2008
ST. PAUL — Minnesota companies already export agricultural goods,
including livestock, to Cuba but a state delegation is headed there to
plant seeds for increased trade.
Officials leaving Saturday on a five-day trip to Havana said Minnesota
is positioning itself to meet the island country's growing food and
Minnesota exported more than $18 million of agricultural products to
Cuba in 2007. That included corn, soybeans, wheat, beans, dairy cattle
and a distilled grain product from corn-based ethanol that is used as
"That's not insignificant," said Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson,
who is leading the delegation. "But the bigger issue is what's going to
happen down the road when U.S.-Cuban relations finally get to the point
of being normal."
U.S. trade sanctions limit sales to agricultural and medical products,
Hugoson said, but Minnesota can expand its trade exports to Cuba.
The trip comes less than a year after Hugoson and others visited Cuba on
a similar trade mission. That trip certainly did not gain the attention
that then-Gov. Jesse Ventura received when he led the first Minnesota
trade delegation to Cuba in 2002.
Ventura made headlines for his private meeting with former dictator
Fidel Castro, but members of the upcoming mission also credited Ventura
with helping to instigate a trade dialogue.
Hugoson will be joined by state officials, representatives from private
companies such as Cargill and two legislators, Reps. Doug Magnus,
R-Slayton, and Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar. The trade mission includes farm
tours and a meeting with the top official at Alimport, the agency that
decides Cuba's food imports.
Two areas of export growth
Minnesota leaders see two possible areas of export growth: Cuba's
domestic demand for food and agriculture products and its burgeoning
Minnesota's $18.3 million in exports to Cuba was only a fraction of the
$431 million in American products sold last year to the country about 90
miles from Florida.
Not the final trip
Just as U.S. exports to Cuba are expected to increase, this likely will
not be the final Minnesota trade trip to Cuba.
"I would expect we'll be there at least once a year, and quite frankly,
we need to be there," Hugoson said. "That's just kind of the way this
Minnesota's location gives it both trade advantages and disadvantages.
Commodities can be shipped on the Mississippi River, but Minnesota
cannot compete with the prices of some goods exported by Southern
states, such as poultry produced in Georgia.
Juhnke leads a House agriculture finance committee. He said Minnesota
meat and poultry companies such as Jennie-O, located in his hometown,
and Hormel will benefit from continued trade with Cuba.
Wente reports for Forum Communications Co.