Communist Cuba contracts to buy $106 million more in American food during Havana talks

AP

Reported by: Anita Snow
Hungry for normalised trade with the United States, communist Cuba announced Friday that talks this week resulted in more than $106 million in deals for American corn, powdered milk, chicken and other food.

Winding up trade talks with Cuban officials in Havana, American farm representatives said they hoped to sell more products - even invest on the island - if the U.S. government allows that in the future.

“This is getting to be a happy habit,” Chris Aberle of FC Stone said Friday as he signed the last of US$15 million in contracts for corn and soybeans.

Aberle said that over two years the Des Moines, Iowa, company has contracted to sell Cuba 440,000 tons of grain worth $75 million on behalf of the 750 grain cooperatives it represents across the United States. “It’s a nice business, and we’ll continue to come back,” he said.

Other deals announced Friday included $14.2 million in contracts for rice, corn, wheat and animal feed from The Rice Company, of California; and $1.8 million in beans from Yellowstone Bean, of Montana.

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The American food sales to Cuba are allowed under an exception to long-standing U.S. sanctions against the island, and constitute the only real trade between the neighbouring nations. Trade is one-sided, with Cuba barred from selling anything to the United States.

During the four-day event, Cuban authorities tried to whet the Americans’ appetite for future investment on the island, especially in the petroleum and nickel industries. The U.S. embargo against the island currently bars American investment here.

“We are formulating a foundation for tremendous business opportunities in the future,” said U.S. Rep. Butch Otter, a Republican from Idaho who signed several nonbinding letters of intent with Cuban officials for the future potential sale of products from his state.

Otter, who opposes American restrictions on travel to and trade with Cuba, said that even this week’s United Nations vote criticising Cuba’s human rights record “is not going to diminish my resolve to continue to press for normalisation of relations.”

The U.N. Human Rights Commission voted 22-21 on Thursday to “deplore” last year’s crackdown that put 75 Cuban activists behind bars, and exhort the island government to allow an international rights monitor to visit, something Cuba says it will never do.
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