Cuba to buy $118 million in U.S. food

Thursday, May 31, 2007

HAVANA -- Cuba agreed Wednesday to buy $118 million in U.S. food products ranging from pork and corn to soybeans and Spam, and said it was negotiating deals that could bring the total to nearly $150 million.

"The sales this week went beyond all of our expectations," said Jim Sumner of the U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council, one of more than 200 Americans from 25 states who visited Havana for talks with communist officials. "When the embargo is lifted, which we hope will be very soon, these deals will be much greater."

Although Washington's 45-year-old embargo remains, U.S. food and agricultural products can be sold directly to Cuba under a law passed by Congress in 2000. Since 2001, Havana says it has spent more than $2.2 billion on American farm products and related costs.

A smiling Pedro Alvarez, chairman of the Cuban food import company Alimport, said Americans are "recovering the market" they lost in the 1960s with the imposition of the embargo.

"The active and massive participation of the American business community makes us very happy," said Alvarez, whose company organized the latest round of negotiations with U.S. farm producers.

Cuba expects this year to match the $570 million it spent in 2006 on American food and agricultural products, including shipping and banking costs.

Cuban Commerce Minister Raul de la Nuez said most of the food would be sold at heavily subsidized prices, on the government's food ration and at public schools and workplace dining rooms.

"This will help feed our people," De la Nuez said.

"We have a common goal of normalized relations between the United States and Cuba," Kirby Jones, founder of the U.S.-Cuba Trade Association in Washington, told the gathering. "One day, we hope there will be free and open trade."

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