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Illinois farmers to see trade potential in Cuba

Illinois farmers to see trade potential in Cuba

author_carrie By: Carrie Muehling

Eighteen Illinois farmers will see market opportunities in Cuba up close

during this year's Illinois Farm Bureau Market Study Tour.

The group will also include two journalists and two Illinois Farm Bureau

(IFB) staff members, said Tamara Nelsen, senior director of commodities

with IFB.

Nelsen said the group typically goes to a market that is a huge

potential market, like , or one that they can learn something from,

like European countries they have visited. Another destination has been

potential competitors like Brazil. Cuba, she admits, is a bit different.

"Cuba has just been a fascination to Illinois farmers for many years,"

said Nelsen.

The group will be looking for direct trade opportunities either now or

in the future. It is a small market – 10 years ago Cuba was only a $30

million market compared to China at that time, which was projected to be

a $2 billion market. But Cuba is already a huge destination for

and its proximity makes the United States a target for exports to the


"As an island nation, they don't have the ability to produce all of

their own products, and so they will be, kind of like Hawaii or any

of the Caribbean nations, a major importer of not only processed and

packaged food and beverage products, but also of feed products because

they will be doing some of their own dairy and livestock," explained Nelsen.

The group plans to visit the U.S. in Cuba, where they

will hear from staff there about the Cuban and market. They

will also visit with Alimport, the major state-run company that handles

all import of food and feed products into Cuba. They plan to meet with

a Mexico-based company that does grain milling in Cuba, as well as

agricultural producer groups similar to the Farm Bureau. And of course

there are farms on the agenda, as well as a farmer's market and a


Nelsen said it has been a challenge to set up this particular trip.

"In doing so, you realize how trade barriers of any sort, whether

government imposed or bureaucratically imposed, just make it so much

harder to trade with people who want to either buy something from you or

sell you something," she said.

Group members had to get permission from the U.S. Treasury Department as

well as business visas from the Cuban government. Everything is under

strict control, so each entity they work with, including their and

transportation outlets, has to know that passports are valid, as well as

the Cuban visas.

"It's all very regulated if you're going down there for business," said


Illinois is a state that Cuban people recognize. Several governors have

visited Cuba and several delegations including commodity groups have

gone there in the past.

"What's interesting is that albeit a small market, they do know who

Illinois is. They do know that we've had interest," said Nelsen. "The

Cubans know Illinois and they know a lot of our products. They know

people from Illinois have been trying to export products to them for

years, so they have a real fond image and I think they are very eager to

establish relationships so we're looking forward to that."

The group departs June 28 and returns July 2.

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June 2012
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