Cuba to buy less US food
Published: Wednesday | November 18, 2009
Cuban purchases of food from the United States will fall by at least a
third this year as the island slashes imports to stabilise an ever-weak
economy further hammered by the global economic crisis, a top trade
official said Monday.
Igor Montero, head of the state import company, Alimport, calculated
that the communist government would spend less than US$590 million on
American food in 2009 once banking, shipping and other transaction costs
are included. That's down at least 32 per cent from last year's US$870
Montero blamed the economic crisis but also took a swipe at Washington's
47-year-old trade embargo, even though it exempts food, arguing that
America should begin buying Cuban products and allowing its citizens to
visit the island as tourists.
"If we aren't given more possibility to generate revenue through Cuban
exports to the United States, or an exchange of visitors," Montero said,
"it's going to be very difficult to continue to reach the levels of
trade we've grown accustomed to."
He said 2009 will mark the first year American food imports to Cuba have
not increased since the US Congress authorised direct sale of
agricultural products to this country in 2000.
Because of a dispute over financing, Cuba refused to import even a
single grain of rice until a hurricane caused food shortages in November
After that, the US quickly became Cuba's top source of food and will
retain that title in 2009, despite falling sales.
Cuban officials have begun a campaign to increase domestic food
production as falling imports have squeezed product supplies at the
country's farmers and supermarkets. But so far, those efforts have led
to little increased output.
Last year Cuba spent a record of more than US$710 million for US
agricultural products of all kinds – a figure lower than the one Montero
gave because it does not include transaction costs – according to the
New York-based US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. That was 61 per cent
more than in 2007, the council reported.
The spike came as Cuba stockpiled food in the face of rising commodity
prices, a strategy that backfired when three hurricanes hit the island,
damaging many of the warehouses where perishable items were stored.
Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment Rodrigo Malmierca said that
foreign imports as a whole were down 36 per cent to about US$10 billion
so far this year, and that about 80 per cent of that was food.
Some 51 per cent of imports comes from the United States, he said,
though Cuba's top trading partner remains Venezuela, led by socialist
ally Hugo Chavez, followed by China, Russia, Spain and Brazil.
In a speech kicking off a foreign trade fair east of Havana on Monday,
Malmierca said "complex economic factors" have forced Cuba to delay
payments to many of its foreign suppliers. But he said that the island
"is ready to hold dialogues to fix that."
Thirty-five US businesses, most of them food, agriculture or shipping
companies, brought about 200 representatives to Cuba for the fair. Among
those here were state agriculture officials from Maryland, Virginia and
Georgia, Montero said.
Terry Coleman, Georgia's deputy commission of agriculture, said the
White House should push to modify banking regulations so that Cuba can
transfer payments from its banks to American ones without having to go
through financial institutions in third countries.
"We are hoping and praying for a real approach to trade," he said.
"Normal trade is direct. You buy, you send the products to the ships and
there's no middleman."
Jamaica Gleaner News – Cuba to buy less US food – Business – Wednesday |
November 18, 2009 (18 November 2009)