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U.S. dominates trade show as food sales continue to climb
CubaNews / December 2003

By Larry Luxner

Thirty-six of the 47 companies that won deals at last month’s Havana International Fair were U.S. firms, according to Cuban food purchasing agency Alimport.

Pedro Alvarez, president of Alimport, said it signed contracts valued at $164.9 million during the show; that figure includes insurance, shipping and related fees.

One of the largest deals, according to the Wall Street Journal, was an $18.6 million contract for soybeans, soy oil, soy flour and corn from Archer Daniels Midland of Decatur, Ill. Minneapolis-based Cargill won a $4 million deal to supply wheat and soy protein. Iowa-based FC Stone LLC, representing 750 U.S. farm cooperatives, signed a deal for $4 million in soybeans, while Michael J. Lahanan of Jacksonville won a $5.5 million contract for yellow pine timber.

Also signed were three chicken deals; $5.8 million with Louis Dreyfus Group; $5.8 million with Tyson Foods of Springdale, Ark. and $1.3 million with AJC International of Atlanta.

Smaller contracts went to Y&Y Agriculture Corp. of Savannah ($350,000 worth of soy-based ice-cream); Dallas-based Dean Foods ($162,470 of coffee creamer); Langdale International Trading of Valdosta, Ga. ($135,000 of wood); Cadbury-Adams of New Jersey ($163,300 of chewing gum) and Illinois-based ConAgra Foods ($76,200 in meat products).

On Dec. 16, Alimport will host an event at the port of Havana to mark the 2nd anniversary of the arrival of the first U.S. food shipment under the U.S. Trade Sanctions Reform Act. TSRA allows U.S. firms to sell Cuba agricultural commodities on a cash-only basis.

In the two years since TSRA’s passage, the United States has exported food commodities worth $554 million, according to Alvarez. By year’s end, that figure could top $600 million.

During the trade show, Alimport signed a shipping agreement with Port Manatee, on Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coast. The first shipment of 250 beef cattle to Cuba from Florida will sail early next year from Port Manatee, said the port’s chairman, Joe McClash.

Despite Florida’s large Cuban-American exile community and their hostility to the Castro regime, more Florida executives were at the show than from any other U.S. state.

A top Cuban official, Angel Delmau, admitted as much in a surprisingly candid interview last month with Agence France-Presse, telling AFP that Alimport’s purchases were more about influencing domestic U.S. politics than saving Cuba money.

Yet the very next day, an “official note” appeared on the front page of Communist Party daily Granma. “We would like to clarify that this functionary, although acting in good faith, was not authorized to make declarations of this type about the subject in question,” said Granma, adding that Dalmau “did not correctly interpret the objectives of the government” in buying U.S. food commodities.

It wasn’t clear at press time how the Castro government plans to punish Dalmau for having told the truth.

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