“(Cuba) wants this to happen, and hopefully we can have a long-term deal with them,” he said.
A mid-June visit by representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and Cuba’s Centro Nacional Sanidad Vegetal settled phytosanitary requirements for the exportation of Washington state apples and pears to Cuba.
Likewise, New York apple growers received phytosanitary clearance on June 19. New York and Washington are the only states that have clearance to ship apples to Cuba, according to the USDA.
Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association, Fishers, said he was uncertain whether New York apple shippers would send product to Cuba this summer or wait until the new crop is harvested.
“We’ve got clearance; it’s just a matter of negotiation with Alimport,” he said.
He said U.S. officials are tying to approve shipments from a northern port such as Dover, Del., in addition to Gulfport. That would make shipments from New York easier, he said.
Mark Powers, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash., said he believes at least two other shippers in Washington will be approved for licenses from the Department of Commerce. That process is time-consuming and difficult , he said.
In the near term, sales of U.S. apples to Cuba could total $500,000 annually, the USDA reports.
Where the first container leads is uncertain, but Sanchez expressed a desire to learn more about the Cuban market.
“We had to start somewhere. It gives us a chance to find out what their needs are,” Sanchez said.
Allen said the potential of the Cuban market is unknown. With 13 million people and nary an apple tree, there is at least room for optimism.
Powers said Cuba as an apple market may be similar to the Dominican Republic, which rated as the 10th-largest market with about 300,000 cartons of imports last year.
At the same time, he said the challenges of doing trade with Cuba — poor infrastructure and a struggling economy — make it a market that won’t explode overnight.
Cuban tariffs on U.S. apples and pears don’t exceeded 17%, he said.
“It’s not often we get to open a new market. It’s an exciting opportunity,” Powers said.
Jim Cranney, interim president of the U.S. Apple Association, Vienna, Va., said Cuba could be a desirable market.
“We hope the that initial shipments can lead to more activity,” he said.