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Berry arrives in Cuba for agriculture summit

Berry arrives in Cuba for summit
Tuesday, May 29, 2007 3:49 AM CDT

LITTLE ROCK – U.S. Rep. Marion Berry is in Cuba as part of an economic
forum on agriculture, marking the second time in seven years the
congressman has visited the Communist nation.

Berry, D-Ark., will spend several days in and travel back to the
U.S. later in the week, his spokeswoman Angela Guyadeen said. Guyadeen
declined to discuss specifics about the trip, citing “security
concerns,” but said Berry would be accompanying other members of Congress.

Berry’s trip comes as Cuban leaders try to expand agricultural imports
to their island nation. Washington maintains a 45-year-old trade
on the island, but U.S. and agricultural products can be sold
directly to Cuba under a law passed by the U.S. Congress in 2000. Since
Havana first took advantage of the law in 2001, it has spent more than
$2.2 billion on American farm products, including hefty transportation
and financing costs.

Guyadeen said she expected Berry, who has a farming business in
Arkansas, to discuss how trade works between the U.S. and Cuba, as well
as discuss individual policies. She declined to say if that included the
trade embargo.

“It is about agriculture. It’s not about one specific process or
another,” she said. “It’s about how the process works down in Cuba.”

About 100 American farm groups and companies from 22 U.S. states are
participating in the talks.

In 2000, Berry and U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., traveled to Cuba
for a four-day trip with members of the Arkansas Farm Bureau. On his
return, Berry said he attended a state dinner with Cuban leader Fidel
Castro and described how offering Arkansas agricultural products,
especially , would be “a very humanitarian issue … their ability
to feed themselves.”

It also could be a huge moneymaker for Arkansas. In February, the U.S.
Department of Agriculture reported that rice was the top crop in
Arkansas, coming in with a value of $892 million. In 2000, Berry said
Arkansas could sell as much as 10 percent of its rice crop to Cuba, plus
soybeans, poultry, feed products and wheat.

In 2005, estimates show Arkansas only exported $2.7 million worth of
products to Cuba, down from $33.8 million the year before, according to
the Web site of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. The site’s
2004 figures included $21.6 million in state exports and about $10
million in grain exports, but did not explain the drop from 2004 to 2005.

Sending rice to Cuba has an added meaning for Berry, who said his father
was working on a deal to sell rice in the island nation in 1958. The
Castro-led revolution took place and the plan ended.

Guyadeen said Berry would be releasing more information about his trip
on his return to the U.S.

“We’re not putting anything out there yet,” she said. “We’re not really
putting out any details because we want to discuss it with the entire
delegation that went down there.”

A service of the Associated Press(AP)

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