14ymedio, Madrid, 7 April 2022 — The Cuba-US Agricultural Conference closed this Thursday with the request of US producers to expand trade “without the policies that hinder it,” according to one of them, Douglas Keesling, an agricultural businessman and representative of the Kansas State Farm Coalition.
Among the 25 members of the US group are producers, businessmen from different states and unions that harvest wheat, corn, beans, milk, rice, chicken, and other products, as well as exporters of beer and other beverages.
Since Wednesday, the US delegation has participated in the III Conference where they discussed with farmers from the Island the possibilities of sharing experiences and increasing trade.
The vice president of the Wheat Association of the North American country, Dalton Henry, said that among American agricultural businessmen there is “a lot of interest in getting closer to Cuban farmers” during a press conference before the end of his stay in the Cuban capital.
“We are hopeful that we can expand trade as other organizations in the US advocate for improved bilateral relations,” he said.
The businessman commented that “there is substantial trade between the two countries, especially in the agricultural sector and that trade takes place despite all the challenges.”
The US Department of Agriculture indicated that only in 2021 the United States doubled its chicken exports to Cuba, which amounted to 253 million dollars. This February, Cuba imported 31,212 tons of chicken from the neighboring country, the third highest figure in recent decades and 33% more than the previous month.
Keesling noted that the US exports more than 50% of the food it produces. And he considered that trade between his country and the Island would be “mutually beneficial” and said that he feels “optimistic.”
The North American businessmen and farmers also stated that the Cuban market is “very important” for them due to the proximity between the two countries, which is “key” for the commercialization of their products, and they trusted in the possibility of carrying out exchanges with Cuban scientists from the sector like they have done with other countries.
They said that they had the opportunity to visit the farms of Cuban farmers in the western provinces of Artemisa and Mayabeque and that they would like to receive them in the United States to show them how they use technologies in their productions.
The day before, Miguel Díaz-Canel made a new nod to the United States, a few hours after invoking a phrase by Fidel Castro to appeal for dialogue. “We have come here to improve our relations and also to end the embargo,” said the president, before the coalition made up of a hundred state agricultural organizations, corporations and producers from both countries conspired against US sanctions since 2018.
The Cuban president stressed the importance of the neighboring country’s agricultural sector “contributing what it can at such a complex time… We can learn a lot from you about the application of technology and the development of production methods that, we know, are very efficient,” he said in his speech at the Palace of the Revolution.
Paul Johnson, president of the Coalition, stated that both parties have “common objectives that allow them to achieve common results,” in response to Díaz-Canel, who insisted that “there is potential to forge paths and bridges together.”
US farmers said Wednesday they would like to sell more wheat and other farm products to the island, but the embargo makes it difficult for them.
“We’re paralyzed because of this embargo. We can’t even compete on equal terms with other providers around the world, because they can offer credit… that means a lot,” Johnson said.
The president of the Coalition insisted that they must find a way to “eliminate barriers.” The Reuters agency indicated that farmers affirm that the proximity of the United States and Cuba (about 90 miles), could cut shipping prices compared to products imported from Europe and other points.
The US embargo on Cuba has exemptions for the purchase of food products, but the US farmers and Cuban authorities consider that the conditions contravene the norms of normal international trade. Among the demands is that of paying in cash and in advance, an anomaly in the international context, but which has not prevented tons of food from arriving monthly in that direction.
Meanwhile, what the Cuban side demanded was to be able to export to raise money and buy other products that cannot be produced on the island. “We don’t want them to give us anything. We want the possibility of selling and buying,” cooperative member Abelardo Alvarez told Reuters.
According to data from the US Congressional Research Service, before 1959 Cuba was the ninth country in the export market for US agricultural products, while today it is below 50th.
The US National Association of State Departments of Agriculture maintains that without the embargo the exchanges would be around one billion dollars per year, compared to the current 250 million.
The readers of the report in Cubadebate, despite being favorable to the end of the sanctions and the increase in exchanges with the United States, interpret the movement as an attempt by the farmers to do export business and demand that efforts be put into national production.
“The only way to get out of the quagmire we are in is to rebuild and make sustainable the disappeared Cuban agricultural industry, first to satisfy internal needs by substituting unnecessary imports and, once this is achieved, to export our surpluses to the world market,” writes a commentator.
“As long as we continue thinking about the blockade and buying and spending those millions that could be allocated to other sectors and not investing to produce it here in the country, we will continue with the same discourse and the same scarcity,” comments another.
From very different positions, the Cuban economist Pedro Monreal, commented last Tuesday on the trade statistics between the two countries along the same lines: “Importing chicken meat from one market or another is an option. There are alternatives, but the question that should be answered is, why does Cuba hardly produce chicken meat? Jamaica produces almost all the chicken meat it consumes.
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