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Cuba Potential
March 15, 2002


It was a good thing we went on this trip, says Mark Streed, Milan, Minn., president of the Northarvest Bean Growers Association, of a recent trade mission to Cuba.

Every meal we had down there involved beans and rice.

Panelists at the Cuba conference talked about Cubas need for U.S. products and the difficulties they encounter accessing the U.S. market. Kirby Jones, the U.S. organizer of the Cuba trade visit, is at the podium.  The two men in the center are from Alimport and Cubalse, two of the leading import organizations in Cuba.

Meeting one-on-one with Alimport president and representatives of the Commercial Department. Alimport is responsible for purchasing 95% of the bean products for Cuba.

Containers stacked on a Havana port.

Meeting in Cuba with Cuban importers.  Spanish translation was available.

It was very common to see taxis this old and many cars still in use from the 1940s and 1950s.

Cuban officials  who are lobbying for the U.S. to lift its 40-year-old embargo  were not aware of the fact that North Dakota and Minnesota produce 40% of the dry beans in the U.S.

They are happy to know it now.

 If trade does develop between the U.S. and Cuba, we will be their most competitive U.S. source of dry beans, Streed says.

Gary Paur, Gilby, N.D, a member of the Northarvest Bean Growers Association board of directors, also made the trip. He was impressed too, by Cubas potential as a trading partner. 

A Texas A & M study found that North Dakota and Minnesota would be among the top five states in the U.S. that would benefit most from opening trade with Cuba, due in part to dry bean exports, Paur reports.

Not policy development

The trip to Cuba wasnt about policy development, Streed notes.

Lifting sanctions is a complicated issue for Cuban and American governments, and there is very little Northarvest can do to affect a change. The purpose of the trip was to better understand the current situation and to make sure that Cuban officials who import dry beans are aware that Northarvest is a potential source for beans in the future.

Cuba  a country of 11 million who consume a large amount of beans in their daily diets  could import 80,000-100,000 metric tons (MT) of black, pinto, navy and red beans per year. 

An 80,000-100,000 MT export potential is big business for dry beans. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexico can purchase approximately 63,000 MT of dry beans in 2002.

Cuba would love to be able to source beans from Northarvest because they are now confined to sourcing beans from countries much further away, Streed says. Plus the quality of beans they sometimes receive is not as good as what is available from the U.S.

Time to meet

Talk about lifting the embargo has been circulating for some time. The first shipment of corn, wheat, soybean oil, rice and chicken from the U.S. arrived in Cuba in December 2001.

It was time for us to get acquainted with Cuba and tell our own story about what we have to offer as it relates to beans, Streed says. They dont do business with you unless they know you.


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