Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cuba could see New York apples this season

By David Mitchell

(April 28, 3:45 p.m.) Jim Allen and two New York apple growers made an unofficial trade visit to Cuba back in 2002. Six years later, the Empire State still isn’t shipping apples to the island nation. That soon could change. Allen, president of the New York Apple Association, Fishers, was part of a 20-member trade delegation that visited Cuba on April 21-23 for the state’s first official trade mission there.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that something could happen this season,” said Allen, who added that storage supplies have been tight. Harvest of the new crop is expected to start the second week of August. “I’m more optimistic something could happen next season, should we decide to take it.” The U.S. exported 1,612 metric tons of fresh produce to Cuba in 2006, valued at $1.1 million. Apples were by far the largest fresh produce export, representing 1,486 metric tons worth $887,000, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

Cuban officials told Allen they receive about five containers a month of imported apples. Allen said he saw red delicious and golden delicious from Virginia during the three-day trip. Much of the fresh produce imported to the country goes to hotels and the tourist trade, such as high-end restaurants, he said. “We visited three grocery stores, and there wasn’t an ounce of fresh produce in any of them,” Allen said. “There were some open-air markets that had fruit, but I didn’t see any vegetables.”

New York representatives met with Cuba’s minister of foreign relations, the foreign trade minister and the head of Alimport, the government agency that negotiates and signs contracts with U.S. exporters. “We had one-on-one, sit-down meetings with very important people,” Allen said. “It was very productive and gave us an opportunity to present what New York can do from apples, to wine, to vegetables and dairy products.”

The U.S. imposed a trade embargo on Cuba in 1962. Trade limitations were eased somewhat in 2000, when the U.S. began allowing the country to buy food and medicine from American exporters. “Cuba does want the U.S. to lift the embargo,” Allen said. “That was a message they gave us at every meeting. They can buy food from us, but they can’t send product here. If they could ship cigars here, they could buy more from produce from us.”

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