Virginia farm exports to Cuba growing
JOHN REID BLACKWELL TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Published: November 18, 2009
Virginia's agricultural exports to Cuba are expected to be up by more
than 10 percent this year, even as overall U.S. food exports to the
communist country decline, state officials said.
The state's exports of agricultural goods to Cuba, including apples,
poultry and soybeans, were worth about $45 million in the first nine
months of 2009, according to preliminary figures from the Virginia
Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. That compares with
$40.7 million worth of exports in all of 2008.
"I think it validates the high quality of products that we are shipping
there," said Todd Haymore, Virginia's commissioner of agriculture and
consumer services. "It's a market that presents significant
opportunities for us."
Haymore and a delegation of state officials, farmers and agribusiness
representatives recently went on a trade mission to Cuba. Cuban
officials told the delegation that the country's agricultural imports
from the United States would be down about 37 percent in 2009, Haymore
said. They attribute the decline to repercussions from the global
The U.S. relaxed some elements of its 1961 trade embargo against
communist Cuba in 2000, allowing exports of agricultural commodities,
medicine and medical devices. The U.S. now ships about $400 million to
$500 million in food products to Cuba a year.
Since 2003, the first year when Virginia started exporting agricultural
products to Cuba, export sales have grown annually from $838,000 to more
than $45 million.
The recent trade mission included farmers such as Philip B. Glaize Jr.,
who has been shipping apples to Cuba for several years and is looking to
secure even more sales there.
"The domestic market is down from last year," making exports all the
more important, said Glaize, whose third-generation farm near Winchester
grows many varieties of apples including Fuji, Granny Smith and Red
Sales of Virginia apples to Cuba were more than $1 million in the first
nine months of 2009. From 2007 to 2008, annual sales rose from $1.2
million to $1.7 million.
Sales to Cuba are a small, but growing, portion of Glaize's apple shipments.
"It is part of our export mix that I want to maintain," he said. "They
[Cubans] like the taste of Virginia apples, and they have proven to be a
good customer for us, despite the hassles of dealing with regulations
that certainly encumber the process."
Restrictions on export financing remain a major impediment to exports,
Haymore and Glaize said.
U.S. law requires that agricultural products may be exported to Cuba as
long as they are paid for through a letter of credit from a third-party
financial institution in another country, or by payment of cash in advance.
"If we could establish letters of credit here, it would help
tremendously," Glaize said. "I don't think we are going to eliminate the
[trade] embargo right away, but we can certainly take small steps toward
Soybeans and soybean meal top the list of Virginia exports to Cuba, with
sales of $20.8 million and $22.4 million respectively, so far in 2009.
Poultry sales this year have reached about $377,000, while pork sales
stand at about $461,000.
Contact John Reid Blackwell at (804) 775-8123 or
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