American farmers and businesses showed off a variety of food products — ranging from M&Ms to bison steaks — and agricultural goods at the U.S. Food & Agribusiness Exhibition in Havana. Some 20,000 Cubans reportedly visited the exhibition to sample U.S.-brand name food items from companies such as Perdue Farms, Hormel Foods, and Tyson Foods.
Although the U.S. has enforced a trade embargo against Cuba for the past 40 years to protest the regime of Cuban President Fidel Castro, a U.S. law passed two years ago created an exception by permitting direct commercial sales of American food and agricultural products to Cuba — as long as payments are made in cash.
President Bush said in May the U.S. would not end its embargo unless the Carribean nation accepted U.S. demands that it be “committed to real reform” to create a “new government that is fully democratic.”
The weekend included a series of firsts, including the first direct sale of Wrigley’s chewing gum to the island since Castro came to power in 1959.
Castro also met privately with American lawmakers from key farm states — like Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura — and influential corporate executives from the U.S. agriculture giants Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill to negotiate future food-for-cash trade deals.
”This type of economic relationship has to be guided by mutual benefit,” Castro told the American businessmen and Cuban officials gathered at the exhibition hall. ”Things are not black and white. True exchange is not that we gain today and lose tomorrow.”
Earlier in the week, the seventy-six year old leader presided over the signing of a $10 million contract with ADM, one of the world’s largest agribusinesses, for Cuba’s purchase of rice, cooking oil and soy. ADM, one of the NewsHour’s corporate underwriters, was the main sponsor of this week’s convention.
Last December, ADM scored the first U.S. commercial sale to Cuba in over four decades when Cuba’s food import agency, Alimport, purchased corn from the Illinois-based company.
With an eye on expanding trade with other U.S. industries, Alimport also inked deals to buy $1.4 million in frozen chicken from Louis Dreyfus Corp. of Atlanta; $2.5 million in rice from the Rice Company of California; and 30 million chicken eggs from Radlo Foods of Massachusetts for $1.5 million.
In opening the fair on Thursday, exhibition organizer Peter Nathan of PWN Exhibition International called on participants to ”take the message back home that the Cuban market is a fertile area for American companies to do business.”
Sales to Cuba have jumped dramatically in the past year alone. In 2001, Cuba ranked lowest of the 228 foreign countries buying U.S. food. This year, Cuba ranks 45th — and is expected to purchase up to $200 million of U.S. farm and agricultural goods with cash by 2003.