Thursday, May 31, 2007

NAPI lands new deal with Cuba

NAPI lands new deal with Cuba
By Lindsay Whitehurst The Daily Times
Article Launched: 05/31/2007 12:00:00 AM MDT

FARMINGTON — Navajo Agricultural Products Industry, which is a Navajo
Nation farm operation, announced a deal Wednesday to sell $137,000 worth
of pinto and black beans to Cuba.

While the contract is relatively small for both the Navajo Nation and
the communist country, NAPI officials said it's the beginning, it is
hoped, of $16 million in trade.

"In the next couple of years, we hope to be shipping some of the
processed potatoes. If we can get the corn volume and make that
agreement, we'd be shipping corn as well as wheat," NAPI General Manager
Tsosie Lewis said.

Under the deal, to be finalized today, NAPI would grow 170 metric tons
of pinto and 62 metric tons of black beans for Alimport, Cuba's state
food processing agent. The beans would be delivered in October.

Lewis said the farm got a good price for its beans, 28 to 32 cents per
hundred weight.

NAPI officials completed the deal in Cuba during the country's annual
commodities conference, where the contract was one of $150 million in sales.

Roselyn Yazzie,
manager for NAPI's bean corporation, and NAPI Chief Financial Officer
Colaine Curtis, both arrived in Cuba on Monday and will return at the
end of the week.

As a Navajo Nation enterprise, NAPI isn't subject to the United States'
more than 40-year-old trade embargo with Cuba.

But under humanitarian exemptions, about 200 American growers already
sell food to the country, Lewis said.

"The growers in the Midwest, people that raise black beans and rice, are
shipping commodities to Cuba through Canada," he said.

Lewis provided a list of 12 other American companies, from Purdue Farms
to Hormel Foods, who signed contracts with Alimport this week for
everything from soybeans to Spam.

NAPI's beans will be delivered in October via shipping container from
Corpus Christi, Texas. The farm is working with two banks, Wells Fargo
and Chase, to transfer the payment to an overseas bank and then wire it
to NAPI, because Cuban money by law can't be stored in U.S. banks.

Nearly a year ago, the farm signed a letter of intent to sell crops to
Cuba, and predicted the contract would be worth about $16 million over
the next few years. Lewis credited Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., with helping
secure the contract by organizing the trade mission.

While NAPI doesn't produce some of Cuba's most in-demand commodities,
such as rice, beef and cotton, Lewis said selling larger volumes of
products such as corn, beans and wheat will increase trade

"To us, Cuba is just a buyer ... like Frito Lay or American Italian
pasta," Lewis said.

NAPI holds $2 million contracts with those two companies.

The only other international contracts the farm holds are with six
Mexican buyers, to whom they sell 90 percent of their pinto beans.

"It really shows the quality of product (NAPI farmers) are putting out.
The demand has risen. People are now starting to come look at NAPI,"
board chairman Ervin Chavez said. "I think demand is going to grow in
years to come."

Lindsay Whitehurst:

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