U.S. exporters hope Cuba trade policy changes soon - The Packer

U.S. exporters hope Cuba trade policy changes soon

06/24/2008 12:00:00 AM
Larry Luxner


The Cuban government is spending more than ever on staple U.S. food imports, leaving fewer dollars for importing fresh produce. “My industry is very interested in sales to Cuba,” says Kevin Moffitt, president and chief executive officer of the Pear Bureau Northwest, Milwaukie, Ore.

(June 24, 3:30 p.m.) Cuba is spending more than ever on U.S. food imports — but that’s not because bilateral ties have improved or because Cuba’s new leadership has suddenly acquired a taste for California cherries, Oregon pears or New York sweet corn.

Rather, it’s because the cash-strapped government of Raúl Castro, which is forced to spend more on suddenly expensive staples like rice and wheat, has fewer dollars left over for imported fresh produce.

“My industry is very interested in sales to Cuba,” said Kevin Moffitt, president and chief executive officer of the Pear Bureau Northwest, Milwaukie, Ore. “People say Cuba used to be a great market for pears in the 1950s, and there’s a specific variety they really like, the comice pear, which is very sweet. We’re holding out hopes that when this market opens up, we will once again have a good market for that variety.”

In September 2002, Moffitt attended a widely publicized U.S. food show in Havana that attracted thousands of curious visitors including then-president Fidel Castro, who even sampled a U.S. pear.

For awhile, Moffitt’s agency — which supervises $110 million a year in Oregon and Washington pear exports — was shipping 6,000 boxes of pears annually to Cuba.

But after President Bush’s imposition of tough new U.S. restrictions on Cuba trade in 2004, that began dropping, and last year the two states shipped only 2,500 boxes to Cuba. That’s only one-tenth of what the neighboring Dominican Republic, a Caribbean nation with far fewer people, buys from Oregon and Washington, which together account for 93% of all U.S. pear exports.

However, the export picture could brighten dramatically if barriers to trade between the two countries were removed even partially.

While Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, has vowed to keep all Cuba-related sanctions in place, his Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, promises that, if elected, he would reinstate unlimited family travel and remittances to Cuba and relax the bureaucracy associated with selling food to the island’s communist regime.


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