Posted on Friday, 07.31.09
Beebe is optimistic about Arkansas-Cuba trade
By ANDREW DeMILLO
Associated Press Writer
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Gov. Mike Beebe said Friday he returned from a
visit to Cuba optimistic that Arkansas can increase its agricultural
exports to the communist country.
Beebe, who joined a growing roster of governors and members of Congress
who have visited the island to promote trade, wouldn't say whether he
thinks the federal government should end its 47-year-old trade embargo
with Cuba. But he noted he traveled there amid signs that trade
restrictions may ease.
The governor said he thinks there's a chance for Arkansas to boost its
trade with Cuba, primarily in rice and poultry.
"I'm optimistic because, just on the pure merits, we've got something
that is better than most folks in the rest of the world and can do it
better and can do it efficiently and can do it more productively," Beebe
told reporters at a Capitol news conference. "I don't think anybody can
grow rice or can have the kind of livestock and poultry efficiency that
Arkansas has, and I think that's proven by the relative stature that our
Arkansas already has limited trade with Cuba under terms of the U.S.
embargo. Exemptions were created to the embargo in 2000 to allow limited
agricultural trade with Cuba.
Last year, the state exported $32,996 in goods to Cuba, all of which was
cotton and fabric, said Scott Hardin, a spokesman with the Arkansas
Economic Development Commission.
That was a steep drop from 2007, when the state exported $1.3 million in
meat and poultry to the island. In 2006, the state exported $1.4 million
worth of goods, mostly rice and cereal.
Arkansas Agriculture Secretary Richard Bell has blamed the dropoff on a
rise in rice prices and a rule requiring cash in advance before shipping
With the trip, Beebe became the latest in a string of governors,
including those from Nebraska, Idaho and Maine, who have traveled to
Cuba to promote trade. The potential market also has led Arkansas'
congressional delegation to visit the nation in the past.
Representatives from Riceland Foods Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc. also
traveled to Cuba on the latest trade mission.
Experts say Beebe's trip comes amid the potential for even more trade
between the United States and Cuba under the Obama administration.
Officials from Cuba and the U.S. discussed immigration this month for
the first time since 2003, and the Obama administration has lifted
restrictions on Cuban-Americans who want to travel or send money to the
"I think it's fair to say there is a new climate," said Kirby Jones,
founder and president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade Association. "I think
people are seeing a change in attitude, and so companies and states are
looking at this and saying there may be a new day here."
Jones, who also is president of Alamar Associates, a consulting firm
that works with companies seeking business in Cuba, said he traveled to
the nation last year with officials from New York, Delaware and
California. Jones said he wasn't aware of any governors who have
traveled to Cuba since Obama took office in January.
Beebe said he didn't make any formal agreements with Cuban officials
during the trip but that he believes the country wants even more trade
with the state.
"Arkansas is particularly well situated to be a major exporter of our
goods and products to Cuba, and it's a new market, in terms of
expansion," Beebe said. "They want to do more. They want to increase the
share of what Cuba buys from Arkansas."
One challenge may be Cuba's president, who said earlier this week that
the country can't pin all its problems on the trade embargo. Raul Castro
on Sunday called agricultural production Cuba's top priority and a
matter of national security.
Bill Reed, vice president of public affairs for Riceland, said he
doesn't see Castro's comments as a threat to Arkansas' attempt to expand
its market in Cuba.
"You still have 11 million people, and they do not have the agricultural
capacity, the inputs that Arkansas farmers have, the equipment, the crop
protectants, the fertilizer, even the technology, to do the type of
agriculturel technology that we do in Arkansas," Reed said. "I don't
expect it would decrease the propsect of imports in the foreseeable future."
Beebe is optimistic about Arkansas-Cuba trade – Breaking News – Business
– MiamiHerald.com (31 July 2009)