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U.S. food exhibition gets green light from Havana
CubaNews / July 2002

By Larry Luxner

The Castro government has given its blessing to the first U.S. Food & Agribusiness Exhibition, scheduled to take place Sept. 26-30 at Havana's Pabexpo convention center.

Peter W. Nathan, president of show organizer PWN Exhibicon International LLC, says Cuban food import agency Alimport expects to sign additional contracts for the remainder of 2002 and for 2003 during the event. Alimport has already imported about $93 million worth of U.S. food and agricultural commodities since passage of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, which allows U.S. farmers to sell food to Cuba on a cash-only basis.

Illinois-based Archer Daniels Midland, which accounts for nearly half of those exports, has agreed to be a sponsor, and another 150 U.S. companies, government farm bureaus, cooperatives and non-profit organizations have expressed interest in participating.

Pedro Alvarez, president of Alimport -- a unit of the Ministry of Foreign Trade -- says he's confident the show will "contribute to increased trade between our two countries" and that it "will facilitate further sales of U.S. food and agricultural products to Cuba, and a mutual knowlege of both markets."

Alimport is the primary purchaser of food and agricultural products for Cuba's 11.2 million inhabitants, as well as for Cuba's dollar retail stores and the tourism sector. The Castro government has designated it as the exclusive importer of such products sourced directly from the United States.

During the first six months of 2002, Alimport contracted for the delivery of $93 million in U.S. agricultural products. According to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council Inc., that already makes Cuba the 58th-largest market in the world for U.S. food -- outranking Greece, Chile, Poland, Hungary and 119 other countries.

By year's end, Alimport could contract for a total $135 million in food-related commodities, pushing Cuba's ranking up to No. 49. All the more surprising then, that Alan Larson, U.S. undersecretary of state for economic, busines and agricultural affairs, said in April that Cuba "is not a particularly promising agricultural market" and that "there is not a market there worth worrying very much about."

In January 2000, Nathan's firm conducted -- under license from OPAC -- the first U.S. Healthcare Exhibition in Havana, which attracted 305 representatives from 97 U.S. companies. The fair, which featured medical equipment, pharmaceuticals and other products, was attended by more than 8,000 Cuban health-care professionals and government officials.

Nathan says several governors and members of Congress whose states have exported food to Cuba may attend; so will officials of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which he said "has been very helpful" in organizing the event.

The Cuban government expects 15,000 to 20,000 people to visit the show, which for one day will be open to the public at no charge; free samples will be given out throughout the five-day exhibition. Except for journalists covering the event, Americans not exhibiting their company's products and services will not be permitted to attend.

Nathan, who has broken down barriers in the past to put on trade shows in the former Soviet Union and China, says there's no more cost-effective way to introduce products to a new market than through participating in an exhibition.

"Now that U.S. companies have had 12 months to learn the mechanics of exporting their products to Alimport through the assistance of the OFAC and the [U.S. Commerce Department's] Bureau of Industry and Security, companies will have the advantage of a specifically authorized U.S. government opportunity to showcase their products, provide samples, and have their representatives meet with purchasers and end-users."

Products which may be featured at the exhibition include, but are not limited to: commodities; snack food; animal feed; fish, shellfish and fish products; beer, wine and spirits; soft drinks; livestock; fiber, including cotton, wool and other fibers; tobacco and tobacco products; wood and wood products, including lumber and utility poles; seeds; reproductive materials such as fertilized eggs, embryos, and semen; vitamins, minerals, food additives and dietary supplements; bottled water, and some fertilizers.

Nathan said the focus of the upcoming exhibition will be on creating brand awareness and brand preference, as well as direct sales, promotion and public relations.

Companies wishing to exhibit will be charged $3,960 for a 9-sq-meter stand, fully furnished with hard walls, carpeting, furniture and electricity.

Details: Peter Nathan, PWN Exhibicon International LLC, 4 Greenbrier Lane, Westport, CT 06880. Tel: (203) 222-8660. Fax: (203) 222-8335. E-mail: pwnathan@aol.com. Internet: www.cubaexhibitions.com.

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