August 2, 2013 in City
Washington laments loss of ag trade with Cuba
Tightening of embargo made exporting too costly
Kaitlin Gillespie The Spokesman-Review
HAVANA –The aisle of a Havana grocery store is lined with shelf after
shelf of cheddar-flavored Pringles. At the deli counter, there are
dozens of boxes of frozen fish sticks. Down another aisle, a brand of
baby wipes fill the shelves.
The produce section, meanwhile, is almost bare. A few bags of frozen
fruits and vegetables sit in a glass case.
These limited choices underscore Cuba’s struggle – it’s a country unable
to feed itself but whose political history makes leaders reluctant to
work with the United States.
About a third of Cuba’s land is dedicated to agriculture, most of it to
grow sugar. Cuban farmers also grow tobacco, citrus, coffee, rice, beans
and potatoes. But it’s not enough to feed 11.2 million people.
For years, Washington farmers have helped.
Cuba imports about 80 percent of its food.In spite of an embargo against
the communist country, Cubans depend increasingly on imports from the
United States. For years, the U.S. was the main provider of food to
Cuba. While the U.S. hasn’t boasted that title since 2010, a
representative from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana said American
agricultural exports to Cuba have increased by about 15 percent per year
during the last three years.
But that growth left out Washington, which once counted Cuba among its
top five export markets for peas. The state hasn’t sent fruits or
vegetables there since 2007 when a crackdown on the 51-year-old embargo
that occurred in 2004 helped dry up Washington exports.
Former U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., and Sen. Maria Cantwell,
D-Wash., were among those who pushed to reopen trade routes between Cuba
and the U.S. in the late 1990s. That resulted in an exception applied to
the embargo in 2001 allowing the United States to ship food and medicine
to Cuba in exchange for cash paid upfront.
After that trade deal, Washington exports of peas, lentils, cherries and
apples steadily increased.
“I think it was good for Americans, good for farmers, good for Cubans,
and I thought it was good policy,” Nethercutt said.
Now, it’s too expensive for Washington farmers to ship produce to Cuba
due to added costs , said Robert Hamilton, Gov. Jay Inslee’s trade
“It’s not worth it,” Hamilton said.
Nethercutt maintains that reopening trade with Cuba would benefit
“The best thing any member of Congress or the Senate can do is assist
the people you represent,” Nethercutt said. “If it’s been restricted,
it’s a function of … members of our state delegation to fight like crazy
for the Obama administration to take action to encourage sales.”
And even though Cuba’s market is small, with a population of about 11
million people, Hamilton said the agriculture sector isn’t going to
refuse that market. “Every little bit helps,” he said.
Only a few blocks from the Havana grocery store stands a small fruit
stand, bustling with Cubans doing their shopping. There are no apples or
peas here; this is all locally grown fruit that thrives in the Caribbean.
All the produce sold here goes through the government, the owner said.
Business has been steady in the three years she’s run the shop. But, “My
business would be better if more of the product came from other
countries,” she said.
Editor’s Note: City desk intern Kaitlin Gillespie studied in Havana,
Cuba in May with The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at
Washington State University.
Source: “Washington laments loss of ag trade with Cuba – Spokesman.com –
Aug. 2, 2013″ –