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Cuban Trade Show Said A Success

January 30, 2000

HAVANA (AP) _ The first American trade show in communist Cuba in four decades wrapped up on Saturday with organizers saying that several manufacturers of U.S. medical products expected to make sales to government hospitals and clinics in coming months.

``It went exceedingly well _ much better than expected,″ said Peter W. Nathan, president of PWN Exhibicion LLC of Westport, Conn., as exhibitors packed up X-ray machines and other hospital equipment in cardboard boxes.

Several of the 97 American companies that participated are expected to apply for licenses from the U.S. Treasury Department to sell products to Cuban medical institutions, Nathan said. He did not provide specifics.

``Whether the money to buy is there remains to be seen, but there is interest,″ said Nathan.

The U.S. Healthcare Exhibition is the latest small advance in U.S.-Cuban relations since January 1999, when President Clinton changed rules to allow increased contact between Americans and Cubans and to ease sales of medical goods.

Almost a decade after the collapse of its socialist partners in Eastern Europe, the Cuban government remains strapped for hard currency and often cannot come up with the cash needed to buy imported goods. Payments to U.S. companies are complicated by the U.S. trade embargo.

But long-term contacts rather than sales were the goal with this first show, Nathan said.

Rules limiting U.S. medical exports to Cuba under decades-old trade sanctions were eased last year. There have been several proposals to fully lift restrictions on food and medical sales, but they have failed to gain full congressional approval.

``We found that they wanted a lot of information,″ said Denisse Garcia, Latin American operations manager for Datex-Ohmedia, which exhibited anesthesia machines and baby incubators.

Datex-Ohmedia, as many of the other exhibitors, was donating some of its equipment to hospitals and clinics. It was giving an incubator to the nonprofit Roman Catholic charity Caritas and leaving an anesthesia machine for the government’s MedCuba agency.

Miguel Angel Campomanes, director of Latin American sales for Zeiss optical devices, said he had received enough interest to make as much as $1 million in sales, ``if they have the money.″

The booth run by Zeiss Humphrey, of Dublin, Calif., was among the most popular during the five-day show because of its free vision tests.

Archer Daniels Midland Co. of Decatur, Ill., the show’s primary sponsor, also attracted much attention for its vitamin E samples.

Other major exhibitors included Eastman Kodak Co. imaging devices, Eli Lilly & Co. pharmaceuticals, and Gerber Products Co. nutritional products for children.

U.S. officials say that since 1992 they have granted 40 to 50 licenses to American companies to sell medicines and medical supplies in Cuba, and that only a handful of requests have been turned down.

The U.S. government says it licensed $19 million worth of American medical sales to Cuba in 1998 and $26 million worth in the first half of 1999.

But actual sales have been much lower, U.S. officials say.

The last such U.S. trade gathering on the island is believed to have been a 1960 meeting for American travel agents.

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