Posted on Fri, Apr. 14, 2006
Sales of U.S. food up 20%
BY FRANCES ROBLES
ORLANDO - Cuba spent $172 million on U.S. food imports so far this year,
a spike in sales over last year, the island's top agriculture import
official said Thursday.
Cuba bought mostly wheat, corn, rice and chicken, despite a rule enacted
last year by the Bush administration that requires Havana to pay cash
for American products before the goods leave U.S. ports, instead of when
they arrive in Cuban ports, said Pedro Alvarez, chairman of Alimport,
the island's food import company.
He spoke by teleconference from Havana at the ''Doing Business in Cuba''
conference in Orlando.
Cuba spent 20 percent more in the first two months of 2006 over the same
period last year, experts said.
''That is huge,'' said Kirby Jones, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade
Association, which organized the conference for Florida companies.
``That's way up from last year. It doesn't mean it will continue that
high, but it is substantial.''
The conference, attended by about 50 business representatives, sought to
increase sales to Cuba. Although the United States has a trade embargo
against Cuba, cash food sales have been legal since 2000.
Since then, Cuba has spent some $1.8 billion on American food products.
Last year, Alvarez said, Cuba spent $540 million on U.S. food products,
up from $474 million in 2004.
Experts caution that Cuba's import statistics are inflated, because they
include costs for shipping and other factors. Other agencies show sales
declined from 2004 to 2005, in part due to the U.S. change in payment
''Those changes have created uncertainty,'' Alvarez said, adding that
sometimes perishable goods spoiled because of payment snafus. ``Cuba was
forced to divert hundreds of million of dollars to alternative markets.''