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Virginia eyes broader array of exports to Cuba

Virginia eyes broader array of exports to Cuba
Associated Press 2:28 p.m. EST January 1, 2015

RICHMOND (AP) – Long before the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations, Virginia
farm products helped feed the people of the Communist regime, making the
state one of the top three U.S. exporters to Cuba.

The man who brokered most of those agricultural deals believes the
relationships Virginia have cultivated over the years will pay dividends
with increased farm exports, as well as non-agricultural products.

Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore said he’s been
mindful of the prospect of a changed relationship with Cuba and the
broader array of Virginia products that could be exported as he’s worked
with Cuban officials.

Haymore said he has invested his time with the Cuban government,
visiting annually over the past eight years, with an eye on better
relations between the two nations.

“And making sure that when the relationship between the United States
and Cuba changed, that Virginia was in a really good position to build
on what we had done through agricultural exports,” he said.

Virginia trails only Georgia and Louisiana in the value of farm exports
to Cuba, which is less than a three-day sail from the Port of Virginia.
Farm exports from Virginia to Cuba peaked two years ago at $60 million
but have dipped to $40 million because of Cuba’s weakened economy.

Soybeans, poultry and apples are the primary Virginia farm exports to Cuba.

A 2000 law relaxed restrictions on U.S. food and medical exports to
Cuba. Farm exports now account for $350 million in rice, corn, soybeans
and frozen chicken parts, the American Farm Bureau estimates.

Since the Obama administration’s announcement this month to relax curbs
on trade with Cuba, U.S. businesses have taken note, seeing another
marketplace for their products 90 miles off the coast of Florida. Even
Haymore says he’s fielded calls from non-agricultural businesses since
the announcement.

Those opportunities are not likely to occur overnight, with Congress
responsible for ending the Cold War-vintage embargo. Cuba will have to
do its part as well by signaling its desire to accept foreign products.

Despite the earlier lifting of restrictions on farm products, there
remain many bumps in the road to get those apples and soybeans to Cuba.

A key handicap is that exporters must deal with Cuban government
officials rather than their counterparts, and the U.S. embargo has not
helped, either. The U.S., for instance, requires Cuba to pay cash in
advance before a cargo ship leaves Virginia waters. Other hurdles
include using third party, non-U.S. banks to deal directly with Cuban banks.

Henry Childs of Crown Orchard Co. has been exporting Red and Golden
Delicious apples to Cuba for 10 years. Cubans have a large appetite for
apples, an exotic fruit in their hot climate.

But Crown Orchard apples, grown on 1,000 acres in Albemarle and Nelson
counties, haven’t been shipped to Cuba for the past two years.

“I’d be very interested in continuing” exports to Cuba, Childs said.
Crown Orchard also exports to Finland, Norway, Central America and
Mexico, as well as the East Coast.

There’s a simple reason exports have become part of Childs’ business,
which dates back four generations.

“The United States raises more apples than people in the United States
can consume, so it’s an advantage for us to grow apples for export,”
Childs said.

For economic reasons, Cuba has turned to other countries with cheaper
and inferior apples, Haymore said.

Growing Virginia exports is part of Haymore’s job description, and he
has Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s backing to continue his world travels in
pursuit of new markets.

A spokeswoman for McAuliffe said he’s hopeful the easing of relations
with Cuba will strengthen the state’s trade relations with the country.

“The governor’s goal is to make Virginia the East Coast Capital of
agricultural and forestry exports, which will benefit the entire
Virginia economy,” Rachel Thomas wrote in an email.

For now, Haymore said, there are no plans to open a Virginia trade
office in Havana, but he believes the state has positioned itself to
prosper as trade restrictions are eased.

“It’s our next-door neighbor, for lack of a better term, and I believe
that at some point the doors are going to open further for
non-agricultural products to be exported there,” Haymore said. “I’d like
to think that Virginia could be standing right at the front of the line.”

Source: Virginia eyes broader array of exports to Cuba –
http://www.13newsnow.com/story/news/local/virginia/2015/01/01/virginia-eyes-broader-array-of-exports-to-cuba/21154965/

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