Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

U.S. Food Fairs Well in Havana. (!Ojo!)

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

U.S. Food Fairs Well in Havana. (!Ojo!)

Article excerpt

THEY WERE ONLY five months old, but Louise and Clarke--two female buffaloes from southern Minnesota--quickly became star attractions at the recent U.S. Food and Agribusiness Exhibition in Havana, Cuba.

Even so, the pair of baby bison--along with two beef cows, two milk cows, two sheep, and two pigs--weren't enough to upstage Cuban president Fidel Castro, who attended nearly every day of the September 26-30 event at Havana's sprawling Pabexpo convention center.

The exhibit generated $95 million in contracts between U.S. companies and Alimport, the sole entity authorized to purchase U.S. farm commodities on behalf of the Cuban government--a number likely to rise in coming months as more deals are finalized.

Some twenty thousand Cubans attended the exhibition, most of them crowding the booths to sample everything from California raisins to Wisconsin cheese. Many left Pabexpo toting plastic shopping bags filled with Spam, Land o' Lakes margarine, Wrigley's chewing gum, and other U.S. brands not sold in Cuba since the revolution.

"I believe it went exceedingly well," said organizer Peter W. Nathan, who's already planning to repeat the show in January 2004 and hold it concurrently with a U.S. health-care exhibition.

The Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA), one of the few loopholes in Washington's forty-two-year-old embargo against Cuba, allows the Castro government to buy U.S. farm commodities on a cash-only basis to help feed its 11.2 million people.

Since Hurricane Michelle in November 2001, Cuba has used TSRA to buy $125 million worth of U.S. food--a number now expected to reach $210 million as a direct result of the show.

John Kavulich II, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council Inc., said the $95 million in contracts was divvied up among sixty-two companies in twenty-three states and Puerto Rico, with 70 percent of all product deliveries to take place in the first quarter of 2003.

Yet 37 percent of Alimport's shopping spree went to just two Midwestern farm conglomerates: Illinois-based Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), the official show sponsor, and Minneapolis-based Cargill Inc., one of several co-sponsors.

ADM won $18 million in Alimport contracts for nearly ninety-nine thousand metric tons of commodities, including thirty-five thousand tons of rice; fifteen thousand tons of corn; twenty thousand tons each of soybeans and soybean meal; five thousand tons of crude oil; thirty-five hundred tons of edible oils, and two hundred tons of citric acid, soy proteins, and margarine. …

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