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Virginia becomes Cuba’s largest U.S.-based agricultural exporter

Virginia becomes Cuba’s largest U.S.-based agricultural exporter
By Laura Vozzella February 18 at 6:16 PM

RICHMOND — Virginia’s exports to Cuba shot up to $42 million last year,
allowing the commonwealth to leap past four other states to become the
island’s largest source for U.S. agricultural products.

Sales to Cuba were up 67 percent in 2015 over the previous year, a spike
that Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) said was the result of more than a decade
of outreach efforts. Virginia producers sold Cuba $42 million in
agricultural products, all of it soybeans and soybean meal for use in
animal feed. That was up from $25 million in 2014, but still below the
$66 million peak that Virginia-Cuba trade hit in 2012.

“Virginia has been a leader in the development of relations with Cuba
since federal law allowed for the export of foods and agricultural
commodities to the country,” said McAuliffe, who led a trade mission to
the communist nation in January. “I am pleased that our efforts to
foster mutually beneficial exchange with Cuba have led to increased
agricultural exports for our Virginia producers.”

[Virginia did not wait to have a relationship with Cuba]

Virginia’s recent trading history with Cuba began shortly after the
United States loosened restrictions in 2000 on agricultural and medical
exports for humanitarian reasons. Starting with Mark R. Warner in 2003,
Virginia governors have been dispatching representatives to Cuba’s
annual trade fair.

McAuliffe tried to build on that foundation even before the recent thaw
in U.S.-Cuban relations prompted other government leaders — including
those in the District and Maryland — to explore potential deals with a
Cold War-era foe.

He has visited many times with Cuban Ambassador José R. Cabañas in
Washington and twice hosted him in Richmond. McAuliffe and his
agriculture secretary, Todd Haymore, met with the ambassador at the
Cuban Embassy in the District on Thursday night, along with Rodrigo
Malmierca Díaz, Cuba’s minister of foreign trade and investment.
Malmierca originally planned to visit McAuliffe in Richmond on Monday,
but the visit was postponed because of snow

A little more than a year ago, President Obama and Cuban President Raul
Castro called for normalizing relations between their countries, which
loosened some restrictions on trade and travel but still left many in
place. This week, Obama announced that he will visit Cuba in late March.

[Obama to visit Cuba just eight months after embassy reopens in Havana]

The recent detente has led other government leaders to take an interest
in Cuba. Officials from District and Maryland will make a trade mission
to the island late this week. Virginia Commerce Secretary Maurice Jones,
who did not take part in McAuliffe’s trip, will join the Washington-area
delegation.

McAuliffe has expressed hope that Virginia’s trading history with Cuba
will give it a competitive advantage when and if the broader trade
embargo is lifted. While still limited to agriculture, the newly
released trade figures show Virginia making gains.

In recent years, Virginia has been among Cuba’s top three American
trading partners, but it slipped to No. 5 in 2014, behind Louisiana,
Georgia, Florida and Alabama. In 2015, Virginia passed all those states
to take the No. 1 spot.

In general, Cuban trade with the United States started dropping off
after 2012, as the Cuban economy struggled and government buyers opted
to purchase more from other countries that, unlike the United States,
allow them to buy on credit. The Cuban economy and credit barriers
remain obstacles to trade with the United States, which overall has
slipped from $348 million in 2013 to $148 million in 2015.

But Virginia has been able to scoop up a larger share of that shrinking
pie. The state’s sales represented 28 percent of total U.S. exports to
Cuba last year — up from 8 percent in 2014.

Over the past decade, Virginia’s exports to Cuba have added up to more
than $423 million, Haymore said.

“I’m hopeful that Virginia agribusiness will continue to serve as a
catalyst for more positive change and create new opportunities for other
sectors of the Virginia economy as the relationship between the U.S. and
Cuba evolves to normalization,” he said.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.

Source: Virginia becomes Cuba’s largest U.S.-based agricultural exporter
– The Washington Post –
www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/virginia-becomes-cubas-largest-us-based-agricultural-exporter/2016/02/18/d37d38a2-d657-11e5-b195-2e29a4e13425_story.html

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