Cuba eager to buy more U.S. agricultural goods
May 13, 2004, Houston Chronicle
By JENALIA MORENO
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle
More Cuban children will have milk as a result of U.S. trade reforms
allowing agricultural exports to the island nation.
Last year, Cuba purchased nearly $250 million worth of American agricultural
goods because of the relaxation on the four-decade embargo on trade with Cuba,
said Parr Rosson, international trade economist with Texas A&M University's
Center for North American Studies.
But Cuba would buy more goods if the U.S. government would further ease
restrictions on trade, Cuban officials, farmers and shippers said. On Wednesday,
the Texas-Cuba Trade Alliance sponsored a conference on how to do business with
Cuba, where all purchases are made through the Cuban government.
Last December, the Cuban government agreed to purchase $12 million worth of
powdered milk from an unnamed East Texas company, said Cynthia Thomas, president
of the trade alliance.
Buying milk from Texas instead of its former source, New Zealand, makes the
dairy product cheaper for Cuba, helping the Latin American country afford milk
for more children. The Cuban government currently restricts milk consumption to
children 6 years old and younger, Thomas said. But with more affordable milk,
the age limit for consumption should increase to age 14, she predicted.
Since February 2003, representatives from the trade alliance have tried to match
Cuba's demand for agricultural goods with Texas products such as rice, onions
The alliance has held several conferences across the state, and the next event
will be in Corpus Christi, where attendees can see pinto beans bound for Cuba
loaded aboard a barge.
Even though the United States can export agricultural goods to Cuba, many
obstacles remain, Cuban diplomat Dagoberto Rodriguez said during a conference
call. Such obstacles include requiring that Cuba pay cash in advance for all of
its purchases from the United States. And the United States has denied visas to
some Cuban officials who planned to inspect U.S. chicken and cattle before
approving importation of the products.
But instead of easing restrictions, the Bush administration earlier this month
restricted travel and cash transfers to the island by Cuban exiles. Tourism and
remittances are Cuba's top sources of income.
The toughened measures are viewed by some critics as a way of winning votes by
Cuban-Americans, many of whom want to put more economic pressure on the island's
communist dictator, Fidel Castro.
Observers believe that there may not be any loosening in the trade restrictions
until after the November election, if at all.
"Until the political winds change, things are going to be pretty tight in
expanding trade with Cuba," said Glen Jones, a Texas Farm Bureau director.
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