Monday, July 30, 2007

Alabama farmers want to export more to Cuba

Alabama farmers want to export more to Cuba


Cuba is under a comprehensive embargo of trade with the U.S. However,
there are several categories of items that the Commerce Department can
approve for export to Cuba. These include:

* Medicines and medical devices.
* Low-level telecommunications equipment.
* Items for news bureaus and groups that promote democracy.
* Sales and donations of agriculture commodities.

Source: Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security
By Marty Roney, USA TODAY
JASPER, Ala. — Dorman Grace looks over his north Alabama farm and
wonders how chickens may play a role in ending the trade embargo between
Cuba and the United States.

Grace, a third-generation poultry and cattle farmer, and others like
him, are already able to do business with Cuba under a law passed by
Congress in 2000 allowing the sale of humanitarian and agricultural
products to the island nation, which slightly eased the trade embargo in
place since 1962.

Since the law began to be implemented in 2001, Cuba has imported about
$1.55 billion in goods from the United States, according to the
U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. The Cuban market is large: The
nation imports half to two-thirds of its staples, according to a July
U.S. International Trade Commission report.

Alabama has been aggressively taking advantage since 2003.

The U.S. Commerce Department estimates Cuba will import $300 million to
$350 million in goods from the USA this year. Alabama will provide about
a third of that, at $100 million to $120 million in goods, according to
the state's Department of Agriculture and Industries.
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Jasper | Forest Products | Marty Roney

That's consistent with recent history. Alabama businesses exported $100
million or more of goods to Cuba in each of the past three years,
according to state figures.

A 2005 Texas A&M study showed Arkansas leading the nation with exports
to Cuba, with an estimated $167 million in trade a year. Alabama was
second at $120 million, followed by California ($98 million), Iowa ($71
million) and Texas ($54 million). Many Alabama farmers would like to see
that business expand further.

"It's a global world we live in," says Grace, 51, whose farm produces
about 110,000 chickens a year. "We need markets for what we produce.
Unlike the American market, the Cuban market prefers dark meat, so
that's beneficial. We trade with countries around the world. Why not Cuba?"

Last year, 66% of the wheat imported by Cuba came from the USA. Other
staples imported included: corn, 71%; rice, 77%; poultry, 65%; pork,
42%; soybeans, 100%; and animal feed, 76%, according to a July U.S.
International Trade Commission report.

The effort has even reached state-controlled media in Cuba. The Granma
daily newspaper, which on its website proclaims it the "Official Organ
of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba," is printed on
newsprint made at three south Alabama paper mills, according to Ron
Sparks, Alabama's commissioner of Agriculture and Industries.

Grace has worked with Sparks since he was elected commissioner in 2002
on increasing trade with Cuba.

"When I was elected to my first term, the poultry farmers in the state
were in a bind. Agriculture as a whole was in a bind," Sparks says. "We
needed to expand our markets. Cuba is a natural trading partner. Cuba
only raises 30% of what they eat. There are 11 million people in Cuba
who need to eat."

Sparks says he knows many people disagree with his position.

"There's a lot of folks in South Florida who have a different opinion
than I do," he says. "I hope they see we are trying to make it better
for the Cuban people. We're not selling them bullets or tanks or
aircraft. We are selling them peanut butter, syrup and shingles."

Sales have been somewhat limited by requirements that Cuba make the
payments in full before shipments leave American ports.

Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez said earlier this year that it
would be "naive" to think that easing trade restrictions would improve
conditions in Cuba. He spoke about the embargo at a Council of the
Americas meeting in Washington.

"The question is not when will the U.S. change its policy. The question
is when will the Cuban regime change its policy," he said. "Years of
foreign investment have not improved the lives of average Cubans, only
the lives of those in power."

Many Alabama farmers, however, see trade as a positive for both countries.

"I love my country, and I think capitalism holds the most promise for
the world," says Sam Peak, who owns about 300 acres of timberland in
central Alabama. He sells trees through a broker to Cahaba Pressure
Treated Forest Products in Brierfield, Ala. The company sells poles and
lumber products to Cuba.

"Who knows, maybe expanded trade with Cuba could lay the groundwork for
real change in that country," Peak says. "Sooner or later, the markets
in Cuba, all the markets, are going to open up."

Roney reports for The Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser.

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