February 16, 2008 / 12:36 AM / 12 years ago

U.S. food sales to Cuba hit new peak in 2007

HAVANA (Reuters) - American producers sold $437.5 million in food to Cuba in 2007, a new peak in value despite Cuban complaints that the Bush administration is hindering trade.

The main items were corn, chicken, wheat, soybean products and rice, according to the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which monitors trade with Cuba.

Sales of agricultural products to Cuba, allowed under an exception to the U.S. embargo placed on Fidel Castro’s leftist government back in 1962, had fallen to $340.4 million in 2006 in a two-year decline.

Cuba’s food import agency Alimport blamed restrictions introduced by the Bush administration, such as demanding Cuban payment prior to shipment, for causing U.S. sales to fall from a 2004 peak.

Alimport president Pedro Alvarez said the increased value of Cuban purchases last year reflect higher world food prices, not greater volume, and said trade with United States is flat.

Still, the fact is that the United States has remained Cuba’s main supplier of food and farm products, with sales totaling $1.99 billion since they began in 2001.

Adding freight, insurance and financial costs, Cuba spent more than $600 million last year buying food from the United States to feed its people, mainly bulk grains to be distributed at highly subsidized prices on a monthly ration card.

The purchases of agricultural products include lumber and newsprint used to publish Cuba’s newspapers, even the ruling Communist Party daily Granma, which is printed on paper imported from Canada or its arch-enemy, the United States.

Even with the increased commodity prices in 2007, there remained an overall increase in the quantity of U.S. products sold to Cuba, according to John Kavulich, senior policy adviser of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

But he said Cuba was buying a reduced variety of products.

“This is, in part, due to the Cuban government recognizing that there exists little value in attempting to link expanding purchases with a reasonable likelihood of changes in United States law or regulations that might improve the commercial landscape between the United States and Cuba,” he said.

He said the trade figures showed that changes to the payment process has not meaningfully hindered sales to Cuba, as claimed by organizations and companies in both countries.

“The reality has rendered empty their protests,” he said.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Eric Walsh

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