(July 22) The boat is in. For the first time since 1960, U.S. apples are available for sale in Cuba.

A containership from Louisiana pulled into Havana harbor and on July 11 dropped off a thousand cartons of Washington apples, the culmination of years of efforts to get U.S. fruit into the communist nation.

It’s a noble effort, especially where U.S. growers are concerned. The U.S. market is perennially oversupplied, and growers rightly see Cuba as an eager market and long-term trading partner.

“There’s 11 million potential apple eaters there, and Cuba doesn’t grow them. No local competition is a good thing,” said Doug Pauley, operations manager at Northern Fruit Co. Inc., the East Wenatchee, Wash., firm responsible for the shipment of mostly red delicious apples, as well as a few sample boxes of fuji, granny smith and golden delicious.

For years, Cuba has been limited to importing apples from Chile, New Zealand, Italy or wherever they could be had. But under the Trade Sanction Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, horticultural product sales became possible on a cash-only basis.

But there are several kinks to be worked out, particularly with Cuba’s infrastructure, which hasn’t advanced much since black and white television went away.

“Keeping the apples cold, ensuring they don’t get heated up to 80 or 90 degrees en route, is a real issue,” Pauley said, adding that getting U.S. export clearance was more difficult than it is to get a product into most nations.

But the effort is worthwhile, he said. Northern Fruit expects to send two more containers, or about 2,000 cartons, in late July.

“The market will not take off overnight,” Pauley said. “We have to be in a learning mode.”

There’s lots of learning left. For the Cubans who forgot — or never knew — the fresh crunch of an American apple. For exporters unaccustomed to selling to a rigid communist dictatorship. And for the dictatorship itself, to realize the fruits — both literal and figurative — of a free market economy. Let’s hope that expanded trade will shorten these learning curves.