Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ag Sales at Havana Trade Fair

Cuba buys $300 mn in food products at trade fair

Havana, Nov 11 (EFE).- Cuba purchased more than $300 million worth of food
from Canadian, Chinese, Venezuelan and U.S. companies, among others, during
the 25th Havana Trade Fair that ended this weekend, officials said.

Some 1,425 firms from 53 countries took part in the fair, which ended on

The head of Cuban state-owned food importer Alimport, Pedro Alvarez, told
Efe that the island's purchases of food products would total between $1.6
billion and $1.7 billion this year, representing an increase of nearly $600
million over the past four years.

Alimport's purchases at the Havana Trade Fair reached some $301 million, of
which contracts with U.S. firms totaled about $106 million, "a figure much
smaller than in the previous year," Alvarez said.

"The blockade is directly harming U.S. companies due to all the limitations
that their government imposes on them by way of a complex system that does
not allow exports or travel and forces us to buy from them in cash," the
Cuban official said.

Washington has maintained a trade embargo against the island for more than
four decades.

The embargo was put in place in 1962 and, since then, 10 U.S. presidents
have supported it hoping it would lead to regime change in Havana, taking
the position that any cash infusion into Cuba, whether via tourism,
remittances or business dealings, only rewards and prolongs the life of the
communist government.

In 2003, President George W. Bush's administration tightened the embargo.
Except for certain exceptions, the United States prohibits the travel of
U.S. citizens to Cuba and, since 2004, Washington has restricted
Cuban-Americans to one visit every three years. Those who violate the law
are subject to fines and possible prison terms.

Alvarez said that despite the obstacles posed by U.S. regulations, 203 U.S.
businessmen took part in the fair.

The U.S. firms taking part in the fair are "efficient and competitive
suppliers," but due to the restrictions imposed by the embargo "they become
uncertain" sources of goods, Alvarez said.

Since food sales started in 2001, "they have remained stagnated by the
embargo, which is seriously harming U.S. companies," the Cuban official

"The common denominator among U.S. businessmen has been total rejection of
the measures imposed by their government," Alvarez said.

He cited as examples the agreements signed for the purchase of 25,000 tons
of wheat from Nebraska and chicken from suppliers in Alabama, as well as
deals for corn and soy products.

Cuban purchases of U.S. food products totaled some $560 million in 2006,
Alvarez said.

Since food sales began in December 2001, Cuba has cut deals totaling more
than $2.2 billion with U.S. firms.

The Alimport chief said Cuba also signed deals at the Havana Trade Fair with
companies from Canada, China, Vietnam, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Italy,
Spain and France.

The contracts with Canada totaled some $140 million and covered the purchase
of wheat, peas and powdered milk, while the island agreed to purchase
200,000 tons of rice from Vietnam for more than $90 million, the Cuban
official said.

Cuba agreed to purchase feed from firms in Mexico and the Dominican
Republic, as well as supermarket products from Spanish suppliers, Alvarez

"We are negotiating the fundamentals for food for the first third of the
year, from January to April, and, on an exception basis, some transactions
up to May or June (of 2008)," the head of Cuba's state-owned food import
firm said.

The Havana Trade Fair drew 997 foreign companies and 428 Cuban firms, as
well as 19 official delegations and 36 chamber of commerce delegations.

Spain, with more than 80 companies attending, was the largest foreign
exhibitor, the Trade Office in Havana said.

Some 45 percent of Cuba's foreign trade is with other countries in the
Americas, while Europe, Asia and the Middle East account for about 26
percent of trade.

Cuba's main trading partners are Venezuela, China, Spain, Canada, Italy and
Brazil, accounting for around 70 percent of the island's foreign trade. EFE

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