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Cuba to Buy $66M in American Food

September 30, 2002

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HAVANA (AP) _ Cuba said it had struck deals to buy more than $66 million in American food as of the eve of the end of a five-day agribusiness show aimed at making the communist-run island hungry for more U.S. farm products.

During the signing of several food contracts on Sunday, Pedro Alvarez, head of Cuba’s food import concern Alimport, offered the estimate of signed contracts although he did not list them.

Signing ceremonies for contracts totaling close to $35 million in American food were held during the first four days of the fair, which started Thursday and ends Monday. Contracts for almost $15 million were signed on Sunday alone.

Noting that Cuba previously had spent $140 million for U.S. farm products in a little less than a year, President Fidel Castro told American exhibitors at a dinner Saturday night that Cuba would buy at least $60 million of their goods before the trade show closed on Monday.

``There was not a single case of late payment for the services and products delivered,″ Castro said of Cuba’s earlier purchases of U.S. farm products, beginning in November.

``Everything was paid for in cash, despite predictions by those who claimed that Cuba was not in a position to pay for such purchases.″

Sporting dark long slacks and a long-sleeve blue shirt known as a guayabera, Castro visited the fair on Sunday to witness the signing of two contracts: one to buy $5 million of soybean and corn from F.C. Stone of Iowa, and another to buy eggs worth $1 million from Dolphin Shipping & Trading of Georgia.

Later contracts were signed for $7.4 million to buy soybeans, soy flour and corn from Bunge of New York and for $1.4 million to buy rice from Riceland of Arkansas.

Other deals were being discussed on Sunday, including a co-marketing agreement between Cuba’s Havana Club rum production company and Splash Tropical Drinks of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Tropical Drinks president Richard N. Waltzer said he hoped to have a formal agreement by Monday to sell beverages to Cuba and have Havana Club market them when selling its rum to hotels and other tourist locales on the island.

On Sunday morning, some exhibitors began giving away food products brought to display. Goldkist Inc. of Atlanta gave away 600 pounds of frozen chicken _ in packages of 5 pounds each _ to delighted Cuban visitors. The frozen poultry was gone in just five minutes.

During the formal dinner held for exhibitors and their families on Saturday night, Castro congratulated the Americans for their ``initiative and courage.″

The show, he said, ``has been possible thanks to the determination, constructive spirit and initiative of farmers and businesspeople in the United States.″

The exhibition featured 288 exhibitors from 33 American states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The show and participants are fully licensed by the U.S. government to be in Cuba, which remains under a trade embargo of more than four decades.

Creating an exception to those sanctions, a U.S. law in 2000 permitted the first direct commercial sales of American food and agricultural products to the communist-run island in 40 years.

Havana for a year refused to take advantage of the law, because it prohibits American financing, requiring all sales to be made in cash.

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