Tag Archives: Agriculture

WHY OXEN REMAIN VITAL TO CUBA’S ECONOMY

Cuba Standard, February 10, 2017
Original Article: OXEN

The collapse of the Soviet Union hit the Cuban economy severely. The island nation lost approximately 80% of its imports, 80% of its exports and its Gross Domestic Product dropped by a third, virtually overnight.

Entirely dependent on fossil fuels to operate, the major buttresses of Cuban society – its transport, industrial and agricultural systems – were frozen. There were extensive losses of productivity in both Cuban agriculture – which was dominated by Soviet modern industrial tractors, combines, and harvesters, all of which required petroleum to run – and in Cuban industrial capacity.

As a result, animals returned to the agriculture scene, and ox, in particular, carried most of the farming burden in the slow recovery that lasted until the last 1990s. After the hurricanes of 2008 (Hurricane Ike, Hurricane Gustav, Tropical Storm Fay), Raul Castro cited ox as essential for recovery. “For this program we should forget about tractors and fuel, even if we had enough. The idea is to work basically with oxen,” Castro told parliament August 1, 2008.  “An increasing number of growers have been doing exactly this with excellent results.”

Cuba imports most of its agricultural machinery and is in need of high ­quality, consistent machinery and spare parts. Cuban imports of agricultural machinery rose from $11.4 million in 2005 to a peak of $92.8 million in 2013 before falling to $57.5 million in 2014. In 2014, Brazil was the leading supplier of agricultural machinery to Cuba, followed by the EU (largely Spain and Italy).

The Cuban drivers for increased imports of agricultural machinery have been the need to improve agricultural performance and reduce reliance on imported agricultural products. Nonetheless, any attempts by Cuba’s agricultural sector to replace its old and obsolete agricultural machinery are making slow progress. In 2013, approximately 1% of Cuba’s 66,128 tractors were less than five years old, nearly 12 percent were between 6 and 30 years old, and 87% were more than three decades old.

 

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CUBA BACKTRACKS ON FOOD REFORMS AS CONSERVATIVES RESIST CHANGE

Reuters, HAVANA, Fri Apr 29, 2016 5:56pm EDT

By Marc Frank

 Original Article: Cuba backtracks on food reform

Cuba decided at a secretive Communist Party congress last week to reverse market reforms in food distribution and pricing, according to reports in official media, reflecting tensions within the party about the pace of economic change.

President Raul Castro unveiled an ambitious market reform agenda in one of the world’s last Soviet-style command economies after he took office a decade ago, but the reforms moved slowly in the face of resistance from conservatives and bureaucrats.  At the April 16-19 congress, Castro railed against an “obsolete mentality” that was holding back modernization of Cuba’s socialist economy. But he also said the leadership needed to respond quickly to problems like inflation unleashed by greater demand as a result of reforms in other sectors.

In response, delegates voted to eliminate licenses for private wholesale food distribution, according to reports over the past week in the Communist Party daily, Granma, and state television. Delegates said the state would contract, distribute and regulate prices for 80 to 90 percent of farm output this year, compared to 51 percent in 2014, according to debates broadcast in edited form days after the event.  Reuters reported in January that Cuba had begun a similar rollback in some provinces, increasing its role in distribution again and regulating prices. The decision at the congress will extend that program.

Data released in March showed that Cuba’s farm output has barely risen since 2008, when Castro formally took over from his brother Fidel, contributing to a spike in food prices blamed on supply-demand mismatch.

Cuba imports more than 60 percent of the food it consumes.

The Union of Young Communists’ newspaper, Juventud Rebelde, reported late last year that the price of a basket of the most common foods increased 49 percent between 2010 and early 2015.  There are no government statistics on food inflation.

While hurricanes and drought have played a part in poor farm output, some experts and farmers say Cuba did not go far enough in allowing farmers freer access to seeds and fertilizers to increase production.

BACKTRACKING

But demand is rising fast. Relaxation of restrictions on self-employment has led to a boom in small restaurants, at a time when Cuba’s detente with the West is leading to record numbers of tourists and an emerging consumer class.

According to the reports, there was no discussion at the congress of moving ahead with plans to allow farmers to buy supplies from wholesale outlets, instead of having them assigned by the state.  Nor was there mention of another reform, also adopted five years ago and never implemented, to have cooperatives join forces to perform tasks currently in state hands, for example ploughing fields.

The state owns nearly 80 percent of arable land in Cuba, leasing most of it to cooperatives and individual farmers. It has a monopoly on imports and their distribution.

“They never fully carried out the reforms and gave them time to work. They stopped half way and appear unable to come up with any other solution than backtracking,” said a local agriculture expert, who asked to remain anonymous.  He said farmers often had no equipment and few supplies such as seed.

The government reported leafy and root vegetable output at 5 million tonnes in 2015, similar to 2008, and unprocessed rice and bean production of 418,000 tonnes and 118,000 tonnes, compared with 436,000 tonnes and 117,000 tonnes eight years ago. Cuba produced 363,000 tonnes of corn last year, just 3,000 more than when Castro took office.

 Cuba April 2015 044Still the Best Cigar Tobacco in the World:Vinales, above and a Tobacco Farmer near Vinales.  (Photo by A. Ritter, April 2015)
Cuba April 2015 053

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ALABAMA COMPANY SAYS CUBA NEEDS ITS TRACTORS, BUT APPROVAL POCESS IS SLOW

By Mimi Whitefield, Miami Herald, 26 April 2016

Original Article: Alabama Tractors in Cuba?

An Alabama tractor company angling to become the first American business in more than a half century to set up manufacturing operations in Cuba is about midway through the approval process.

Cleber, based in Paint Rock, Alabama, outside Huntsville, wants to assemble small tractors in Cuba’s Mariel Special Economic Development Zone for use in Cuba and beyond. The simple tractor model that Cleber wants to produce is called Oggún in homage to the Santeria god of iron, tools and weapons, and it’s designed for small-scale farming.

Cleber is the first U.S. company to receive permission from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control and the Commerce Department for a manufacturing project on the island since the Dec. 17, 2014 rapprochement between the two countries.

When President Barack Obama visited Cuba in March, he said that Cleber “will be the first U.S. company to build a factory here in more than 50 years.”

But Saul Berenthal, a Cuban-American who is a co-founder of the company and its chief operating officer, said it’s not a done deal yet. The Cubans still haven’t given final approval for the project. “I’d say we’re in the middle of the process,” Berenthal said. “Nothing is done until the fat lady sings.” I’d say we’re in the middle of the process. Nothing is done until the fat lady sings.

As overtures to Cuba by American businesses have picked up since the thaw, Berenthal said, “There are a lot of people in Cuba who are very busy and that tends to slow things down.” All documents and manuals also must be translated into Spanish, he said, and there’s plenty of other red tape.

But Berenthal, who was in Cuba two weeks ago for more talks, said he’s hopeful Cuban approval could come within the next 90 days. Cleber has been told it will take about six months to get a factory up and running. Initially, Cleber plans to have 10 employees and expects to add two more people annually as production ramps up.

From just serving the Cuban market, Cleber would like to eventually expand and export to other Central American and South American markets covered by Cuban trade agreements.

Berenthal and co-founder Horace Clemmons set up Cleber shortly after the rapprochement was announced with the idea of producing small-scale tractors particularly suited for the Cuban market.

Many Cuban campesinos still use livestock in the fields or aging tractors, Berenthal said. There are about 60,000 tractors in use in Cuba today, but many of them are from the 1980s, and 500 to 1,000 are lost every year because they are cannibalized for parts or simply stop working, he said.

The simple design of the Oggún, which uses parts that are widely available, also is in keeping with more sustainable agriculture.Cuba began a transition to more sustainable agricultural practices in the 1990s because it didn’t have much choice after the collapse of its benefactor, the old Soviet Union. With supplies of pesticides, fertilizers and oil scarce, Cuba began breaking up large state farms and Cuban producers began turning to organic farming techniques. But production has fallen.

Getting food production back on track is a Cuban priority. “Cuba’s mission is to be able to replace $2 billion in agricultural imports,” Berenthal said. “There’s also the pressure for more food from the tourism industry, which is increasing tremendously.”

“Not often in life do we get the opportunity, through simple efforts on our part, to make a difference in the lives of many. This venture represents that opportunity, to show the Cuban people the benefits of expanded commerce opportunities with the United States,” Clemmons said.

Even though new rules by the Obama administration make it easier to trade with and do business with Cuba, the embargo is still in effect and some U.S. projects require special approvals.

“There will be opportunities in Cuba. There are few places in the world with a real white space,” said Maguerite Fitzgerald, a partner at The Boston Consulting Group. But doing business with Cuba, she added, “isn’t a fast game or one that’s played with traditional rules.”

Berenthal said Cleber is prepared to let the Cuban approval process run its course. But if it drags on too long, Cleber plans to begin assembling Oggún tractors in Alabama and taking orders.

“We’re going to build tractors. We’d like to do it in Cuba,” he said. Cleber thinks Cuba’s Special Economic Development Zone, a 180-square-mile complex under development 28 miles west of Havana, is the place to do it. The Mariel zone wants to attract foreign investment in clean, sustainable projects with export potential.

Farmer Ploughing Field with Oxen

The Original Plowing Systemzz04.Braley_20091111_HighRes.previewSoviet Tractor

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The New Tractor: Appropriately Small-scale for Small Farms?

 

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UNITED STATES INTERNATIONAL TRADE COMMISSION, OVERVIEW OF CUBAN IMPORTS OF GOODS AND SERVICES AND EFFECTS OF U.S. RESTRICTIONS

March 2016 Publication Number: 4597 Investigation Number: 332-552

Complete document is here:  US Exports to Cuba after the Embargo is Lifted

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Executive Summary

Chapter 1 Introduction

Chapter 2 Cuban Imports of Goods and Services

Chapter 3 Current U.S. Restrictions on Trade with and Travel to Cuba and Their Effects on Cuban Imports of U.S. Goods and Services

Chapter 4 Possible Cuban Barriers to U.S. Exports and Investment in the Absence of U.S. Restrictions .

Chapter 5 Agricultural Products

Chapter 6 Manufactured Products

Chapter 7 Services

Chapter 8 Modeling the Effects of U.S. Restrictions and Cuban Barriers on U.S. Exports to Cuba

 Appendix A Request Letters

Appendix B Federal Register Notices

Appendix C Hearing Calendar

Appendix D Written Submissions

Appendix E List of Authorized Cuentapropistas

Appendix F Regulatory and Legislative Framework of the U.S. Restrictions on Trade with and Travel to Cuba

Appendix G Cuban Intellectual Property Laws

Appendix H HS Codes Contained in Each Sector

Appendix I Description of Empirical Methodology

Appendix J Tables to Support Figures

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CUBA’S FIRST U.S. FACTORY IN 56 YEARS

Forbes, Feb 16, 2016

Original Article : CUBA’S FIRST U.S. FACTORY

Susan Adams, Forbes Staff

Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal, both 72-year-old retired software engineers, are slated to become the first Americans since 1959 to set up a manufacturing plant in Cuba. Their plan: produce small, easily maintained tractors for use by family farmers. Under new regulations issued by the Obama administration, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control gave the Paint Rock, AL-based partners the go-ahead last week. Once they get final approval from the Cubans, they anticipate that in early 2017, they’ll start building a factory in a special economic zone set up by the Cuban government in the port city of Mariel. In this condensed and edited interview, Berenthal describes his transition from software entrepreneur to Cuban manufacturing pioneer.

zzzxzzSusan Adams: Tell me about your personal connection to Cuba.

Saul Berenthal: I was born and raised in Cuba. I came to the U.S. in 1960 right after the revolution. First I came and then my parents. My family in Cuba is in the cemetery. But I have lots of friends there and I’ve been traveling back and forth since 2007.

Adams: How did you get the idea to build tractors?

Berenthal: I understood the needs of the Cuban economy. Cuba has to import more than 70% of what people eat. They’re still using oxen to farm the land. Our motivation really is to help the Cuban farmer be more productive.

Adams: But you and Mr. Clemmons are software engineers. How did you know the first thing about farm equipment?

Berenthal: Horace was born and raised on a farm in Alabama. He’s the farming expert and I’m the Cuba expert.

Adams: Just because he was raised on a farm wouldn’t mean he would know how to make tractors.

Berenthal: We hired an engineering company in Alabama that helped us pick up an existing design that was appropriate for what we wanted to do. We brought in state-of-the-art technology and produced the tractors. We have a tractor in Cuba already that’s going to be shown at an agricultural fair in March.

Adams: It sounds like you were motivated less by profit than by a desire to help the Cuban economy and Cuban-American relations.

Berenthal: Yes, our motivation is really to help Cuban farmers be more productive. Through commerce and trade, we can bring Cuban and American people closer together.

Adams: What about making money?

Berenthal: Our business model says we are investing in Cuba and reinvesting any profits we make. We’ll do what we did with our other businesses. We’ll create value and then sell the company.

Adams: What profit margins do you project for your tractors?

Berenthal: We’re aiming for 20%.

Adams: How many tractors do you need to sell before you’re profitable?

Berenthal: We believe we’ll sell 300 tractors in the first year and then we’ll ramp up to 5,000. That includes other light equipment we’ll sell for construction as well. The facility will have the capacity to produce up to 1,000 tractors a year. I think the profitability will come after the first or second year when we start to do production and not just assembly in Cuba.

Adams: But Cuba is plagued by shortages of the most basic products. How will you get tractor parts?

Berenthal: They’re all going to be sourced and shipped from the U.S. The current state of the embargo makes it so we can’t buy parts there. But we think that within the next three years the embargo will be lifted and we’ll be able to source from Cuba, if not sooner.

Adams: Your factory will be in a special economic zone?

Berenthal: It’s called ZED, for Zona Especial de Mariel. It’s built around one of Cuba’s biggest ports and it has a whole bunch of sections dedicated to foreign investment. They provide for a bunch of tax and investment incentives. We’re also taking advantage of Cuba’s commercial treaties with the rest of Latin America, where we’ll be able to ship and provide better pricing than for tractors built in the U.S.

Adams: What kind of tax incentive is Cuba offering?

Berenthal: For the first 10 years we don’t pay any taxes.

Adams: How many local people will you employ?

Berenthal: We’ll start with five and ramp up to 30 within the first year and then probably go up to 300.

Adams: You want to sell the tractors for $8,000-$10,000. How can a Cuban farmer with an ox possibly afford that?

Berenthal: There are a couple of ways. There is financing by the Cuban government and by third countries like Spain, France and the Netherlands. We also count on Cuban-Americans who live in the U.S. who have relatives and friends that run farms. We think they would be happy to contribute to Cubans owning a tractor. We’re also counting on NGOs that help Cuban farmers, like religious groups.

Adams: How much is your initial investment?

Berenthal: We project a $5 million investment and then it will go up to $10 million.

Adams: Where are you getting the money?

Berenthal: It’s private money. We have a couple of investors but we have also sold a couple of companies.

Adams: What did you find when you went to Cuba?

Berenthal: I started meeting with people and I had a lot of contacts in the economics department at the University of Havana. I learned what the Cuban government was proposing to do about readjusting the economy. In 2014, when the opportunity for trade arose, we decided to pursue farming and tractors.

Adams: How difficult was it to get U.S. government approval?

Berenthal: In all honesty it was tedious rather than difficult. We had to wait for the regulations to change so that the proposal we made was covered by the regulations implemented over the last nine months.

Adams: Were you competing with other U.S. companies?

Berenthal: We certainly believe we’re going to compete with the Chinese and Byelorussians, who are the current suppliers of tractors to the Cuban government.

Adams: Where did you get the names for your company, Cleber, and product, Oggun.

Berenthal: Cleber is from our names, Clemmons and Berenthal. It’s clever! Oggun is the name of the deity for iron in the Santeria religion. Santeria is the most popular religion in Cuba. It’s a mixture of Catholic and African religions.

Adams: Do you practice Santeria?

Berenthal: No ma’am. I’m Jewish. We’re called Jewbans

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U.S. APPROVES FIRST FACTORY IN CUBA SINCE 1959

MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN

HAVANA — The Associated Press

Original Article: U.S. Tractor Factory in Cuba

Globe and Mail, Toronto. Published Monday, Feb. 15, 2016 5:23PM EST

The Obama administration has approved the first U.S. factory in Cuba in more than half a century, allowing a two-man company from Alabama to build a plant assembling as many as 1,000 small tractors a year for sale to private farmers in Cuba.

The U.S. Treasury Department last week notified partners Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal that they can legally build tractors and other heavy equipment in a special economic zone started by the Cuban government to attract foreign investment.

Cuban officials already have publicly and enthusiastically endorsed the project. The partners said they expect to be building tractors in Cuba by the first quarter of 2017.

“Everybody wants to go to Cuba to sell something and that’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re looking at the problem and how do we help Cuba solve the problems that they consider are the most important problems for them to solve,” Mr. Clemmons said. “It’s our belief that in the long run we both win if we do things that are beneficial to both countries.”

The $5-million (U.S.) to $10-million plant would be the first significant U.S. business investment on Cuban soil since Fidel Castro took power in 1959 and nationalized billions of dollars of U.S. corporate and private property. That confiscation provoked a U.S. embargo on Cuba that prohibited virtually all forms of commerce and fined non-U.S. companies millions of dollars for doing business with the island country.

Farm Worker Plowing Field with a Team of OxenSome Competition for the Oxen. (Ploughing a field at Vinales)

Letting an American tractor company operate inside a Cuban government facility would have been unimaginable before Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro declared on Dec. 17, 2014, that they would restore diplomatic relations and move to normalize trade, travel and other aspects of the long-broken bilateral relationship.

Since then, Mr. Obama has been carving exceptions into the embargo through a series of executive actions, and his administration now says they allow U.S. manufacturing at the Mariel port and special economic zone about 48 kilometres west of Havana. One exception allows U.S. companies to export products that benefit private and co-operative farmers in Cuba. Mr. Berenthal and Mr. Clemmons say they will sell only to the private sector.

The Obama administration says it is eager to make the opening with Cuba irreversible by any future administration. Since the start of the year, the United States and Cuba have made a series of announcements that appear designed partly to create a sense of unstoppable momentum in their new relationship.

Cuba announced late last month that it would more than double the number of public WiFi access spots to more than 100 across the country this year and bring broadband Internet to a small number of Cuban homes, where it is currently illegal. Mr. Obama said in 2014 that Mr. Castro had promised to increase Cubans’ access to the Internet as part of détente.

On Saturday, Cuba announced it had returned a U.S. Hellfire missile it said was mistakenly shipped to Havana from Paris in 2014. On Tuesday, Cuba’s Transport Minister and the U.S. Secretary of Transportation will sign a deal authorizing the first regularly scheduled commercial flights between the United States and Cuba since shortly after the 1959 revolution.

The Oggun tractor plant, named after a god in Cuba’s syncretic Santeria religion, will assemble commercially available components into a durable and easy-to-maintain 25-horsepower tractor selling for less than $10,000, Mr. Clemmons and Mr. Berenthal said. The men believe they can sell hundreds of the tractors a year to Cuban farmers with financing from relatives outside the country and to non-government organizations seeking to help improve Cuban agriculture, which suffers from low productivity due mostly to excessive control of both basic supplies and prices by an inefficient, centrally planned state bureaucracy.

“I have two countries that for 60 years have been in the worst of terms, anything I can do to bring to the two countries and the two people together is tremendously satisfying,” said Mr. Berenthal, a Cuban-born semi-retired software engineer who left the country at age 16.

He met Mr. Clemmons, who is from Paint Rock, Ala., when they worked at IBM in the 1970s. They left to form a successful cash-register software company that grew to earn $30-million a year before they sold it in 1995 for a sum Mr. Clemmons says was “enough that I don’t have to work.”

Between their own capital and commitments from private investors, they say they have enough cash in hand to build the Oggun factory as soon as Cuba lets them proceed.

“Everything’s locked in,” Mr. Clemmons said.

Mr. Berenthal said they are optimistic they will also be able to export Oggun tractors to other Latin American countries, which have low or no tariffs on Cuba products, making them competitive on price. The men expect a 10-per-cent to 20-per-cent profit on each tractor.

For the project’s first three years, Mr. Clemmons and Mr. Berenthal say they will export components from the United States for assembly in Cuba. They hope to eventually begin manufacturing many of the parts themselves on the island. They said they expect to start with 30 Cuban employees and, if things go as planned, grow within five years to as many as 300.

Mr. Clemmons and Mr. Berenthal will publish all the schematics of their tractors online to allow Cubans and other clients to more easily repair their equipment and come up with designs for other heavy equipment based on the same frame and motor that the company, Cleber, can then produce at its Mariel factory.

The men already have plans to produce excavators, backhoes, trench diggers and forklifts, equipment badly needed across Cuba, where virtually all the infrastructure is crumbling after years of neglect and mismanagement and a lack of cash the government blames on the embargo.

“I think it’ll have a tremendous impact on their ability not only to help their economy but to set an example across the Caribbean and Latin America,” Mr. Berenthal said.

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 Case – International Harvester sugar cane harvester, made in Brazil. The next step for Cuban agricultural machinery assembly?

z Cane-Harvester-October-1993-002Cuban-manufactured Sugar Cane Harvester Pausing on the Highway, November 1994.  Was this the last Cuban-made  cane harvester?Photo by Arch Ritter.

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LA AGROINDUSTRIA CAÑERA CUBANA: TRANSFORMACIONES RECIENTES

Mario González-Corzo, Editor, con la asistencia de Rosalina López

Bildner Center for Western Hemisphere Studies, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York

 This volume presents an analysis of the evolution and recent transformation of the sugar cane industry in Cuba from the fallout of sugar production during the Special Period to the creation of AZCUBA in 2011 to face new challenges; it also covers the potential use of sugar as energy and the behavior of the commodity within the global market economy.

 Complete document here:  La agroindustria cañera cubana

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CONTENIDO

Introducción, Mario González-Corzo

1 Importancia económica y estratég ica de la agroindustria cubana, Armando Nova González

2 La agroindustria bioenergética de la caña azúcar: retos y pers-pectivas, Federico Sulroca Domínguez

3 Las agroindustria cañera cubana: desempeño y tendencias recientes, Mario González-Corzo

4   AZCUBA: un modelo de la agroindustria cubana, Federico Sulroca Domínguez

5 La inserción de la agroindustria en la economía internacional, Lázaro Peña Castellanos

Bibliografía

Sobre los autores

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CUBA’S AGRICULTURAL TRANSFORMATIONS

Journal of Agricultural Studies ISSN 2166-0379 2015, Vol. 3, No. 2

Armando Nova González, Centro de Investigaciones de la Economía Internacional (CIEI), Universidad de La Habana, and Mario A. González Corzo, Lehman College, City University of New York (CUNY)

Complete Essay Here:  Mario Gonzalez-Corzo and Armando Nova, Cuba’s Agricultural Transformations, 2015

 ABSTRACT:

  The Cuban government has implemented a series of agricultural transformations since 2007 to increase the country’s agricultural self-sufficiency and reduce its dependency on food imports. These include the transfer (in usufruct) of State-owned land to non-State producers (e.g. cooperatives and private farmers), moderate price reforms, the decentralization of decision making, and the gradual relaxation of existing forms of agricultural commercialization.

As a result of these measures, the area planted, as well as physical output and agricultural yields (in selected non-sugar crop categories) have shown mixed results, but still remain below desired levels.

There are three (3) fundamental unresolved aspects that have prevented Cuba’s agricultural sector from achieving the desired outcomes: (1) the need to achieve the “realization of property,” (2) the recognition and acceptance of the market as a complementary economic coordination mechanism, and (3) the absence of a systemic focus to achieve the successful completion of the agricultural production cycle.

These unresolved aspects should be addressed through:

(1) the consolidation of input markets, where producers can obtain essential inputs at prices that correspond to the prices they can obtain for their output,

(2) greater autonomy to allow agricultural producers to freely decide when, where, and to whom they could sell their output, after social contracts have been fulfilled,

(3) the diversification of the forms of agricultural commercialization to permit greater participation by non-State economic actors,

(4) allowing agricultural producers to freely hire the labor necessary to sustain and increase production, and (5) providing agricultural producers with the financing and technical assistance necessary.

z3 Mario A. González Corzo and Armando Nova González,

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U.S.-CUBA AGRICULTURAL TRADE: PAST, PRESENT, AND POSSIBLE FUTURE

Full Document Here: US-Cuba Agricultural Trade, Past, Present and Perspective, USDA,2015

By Steven Zahniser, Bryce Cooke, Jerry Cessna, Nathan Childs, David Harvey, Mildred Haley, Michael McConnell, and Carlos Arnade, all from the United States Department of Agriculture

Abstract

Establishment of a more normal economic relationship with Cuba has the potential to foster additional growth in U.S.-Cuba agricultural trade. Prior to the Cuban Revolution of 1959, bilateral agricultural trade featured large volumes of Cuban sugar and smaller volumes of molasses, tobacco, and pineapple from Cuba and rice, lard, dried beans, wheat, and wheat flour from the United States. In 2000, the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba was loosened to allow for U.S. exports of agricultural products and medicine. As a result, the United States soon became Cuba’s leading supplier of agricultural imports. The remaining prohibitions on issuing credit to Cuba, however, give other exporting countries a competitive advantage in the Cuban market, and the United States slipped to being the second leading supplier in 2013 and the third leading supplier in 2014. A more normal economic relationship between the two countries would allow Cuba to resume exporting agricultural products to the United States, while U.S. agricultural exporters would be able to develop commercial ties in Cuba that approximate their business relationships in other parts of the world.

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AMERICAN FOOD PRODUCERS SEE BONANZA IN CUBA, BUT STEEP BARRIERS REMAIN

Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, June 18, 2015

Original here: Us Food Exports: Bonanza In Cuba

Before the U.S. embargo, Cuba bought more American rice than any other country in the world. Now, most Cuban rice comes from Vietnam. Last year, Cuba imported $200 million worth of wheat — virtually all of it from Europe and Canada and none from the United States, the largest global exporter.

Many U.S. agricultural producers thought those facts would begin to change this year, as U.S. relations with Cuba improved.  But in the six months since President Obama announced a new opening to the island, sales of U.S. foodstuffs — among the few U.S. products allowed, with restrictions, under the embargo — have dropped by half, from $160 million in the first quarter of 2014, to $83 million this year.  Even frozen chicken, which has led U.S. food exports to Cuba for years, had lost favor in Havana long before fears of the U.S. bird flu epidemic led this month to a ban on all poultry purchases.

Cuba Nov 2008 009Silver Creek, Seaman’s Orchards Apples from Tyro Virgina, arriving in the “Barrio Chino”, Havana, November 2008, Photo by A. Ritter

As the administration wraps up negotiations with Cuba that are expected to lead to restored diplomatic ties this summer, only Congress can lift the embargo that still prevents nearly all financial and trade relations and severely limits even the few permitted exports.

Obama has said he wants that to happen, and U.S. producers from major agribusiness  companies to small farmers have joined a bipartisan force of farm state governors and lawmakers to help overturn restrictions they say are keeping them out of a $2 billion annual market.

“Opening a new export market means a new source of revenue,” said Devry Boughner, vice president at Cargill Inc., the Minnesota-based agribusiness giant and a co-founder in January of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba.

While Cuba’s 11 million people are not the world’s biggest market, Boughner said in an interview, “it’s a market that’s right in our target zone.” With Cuba only 90 miles away, she said, it makes little sense “to be losing out to competitors who take longer to ship it there, who might not even have the same quality” as U.S. products.

Cubans rival Southeast Asians as prodigious consumers of rice. Within two years, Riceland Foods vice president Terry Harris told the Senate Agriculture Committee in April, American rice could be providing up to 135,000 metric tons, 30 percent of the Cuban market. Within a decade, he said, that figure could rise to 75 percent or more.

Doug Keesling, a fifth generation Kansas wheat farmer, told the panel he saw no “compelling reason” for Congress to “restrict the freedom of Americans to engage in commerce, especially for those who are just trying to sell wholesome, American-grown food.” “I can put my wheat in an elevator in Kansas, send it by rail down to the Gulf, put it on a ship that’s a couple days away from Havana harbor,” Keesling said. “But my wheat’s still going to lose out to wheat that has been on a boat for a week from Canada, or even two weeks from France.”

Yet despite a series of hearings, conferences, concerted lobbying and a stream of trade delegations to Cuba from both Republican and Democratic states this year, the embargo remains firmly in place, with little promise of early action.

Many lawmakers are receptive to Obama’s call to jettison a policy he says has failed for more than a half century to effect change in Cuba. But for most, lifting the sanctions remains just one more unwelcome controversy in a contentious Congress. Others want to retain congressional power to block a White House initiative they deeply oppose. They include GOP presidential candidates Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), who has accused Obama of turning his back on Cubans oppressed by their communist government, and Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), both sons of Cubans who emigrated before Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.  Obama, Cruz charged, had thrown an “economic lifeline” to Cuba just as the embargo and diplomatic freeze had left its communist regime “gasping for air.”

Malnutrition rates in Cuba are “very low,” according to the World Food Program, on par with the United States and the rest of the highly developed world. Staples are guaranteed via government-issued ration cards. But domestic agricultural production rates are abysmal, equipment and farming methods are antiquated, and up to 80 percent of Cuban food is imported.  Subsidies from the then-Soviet bloc helped fill the food gap for decades after the U.S. embargo was first imposed in 1960. The Soviet collapse left Cuba in deep recession in the early 1990s, and Havana welcomed the lifting of some U.S. restrictions on food and medical exports in 2000.

Despite permitting cash-only transactions, U.S. food sales rose to a 2008 peak of $710 million before starting a downward trajectory that appears this year to have gone off a cliff, according to figures compiled by the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

When current President Raul Castro took over nearly a decade ago he adopted more pragmatic policies than his older brother, and U.S exports increased. But the complication and high expense of buying American in recent years has diminished Cuban zeal. U.S. prices may be competitive and transportation cheaper over the short distance, but the cost of doing business with the United States is high.

Cash-only limits remain, although Obama has eased the restriction somewhat by requiring payment when title to the goods is transferred in Cuba, rather than up-front before goods are shipped.  But Cuba’s lack of cash makes that a rarely used option. Most purchases are made on credit, and the embargo allows no U.S. financing. Instead, Cuba must go through third countries, with Havana obtaining a loan from a foreign bank. That bank then communicates with the bank of a U.S. producer, which arranges the sale with the producer himself. The process is then reversed, with each stage involving lengthy bureaucracy and significant fees.

Cubans “are not going hungry; they’re just buying wheat from other countries,” said farmer Keesling. “That may be more expensive than mine in a free market, but it is now a much better value because there aren’t massive compliance costs accompanying every purchase.”

Some opponents of lifting the embargo maintain that increased U.S. sales will only benefit the Cuban government, since all agricultural imports must go through the state agency, called Alimport.

Boughner and others point out that Cuba is not unique in that regard. Until recently, both Canada and Australia handled all of their wheat imports with state boards. “We’ve had examples through history where states have been involved in trading, but it doesn’t mean we don’t trade with them,” Boughner said. The U.S. food business also sees potential in the eventual lifting of remaining restrictions on American travel to Cuba. In addition to sampling Cuban cuisine, tourists will want to eat and drink what they are used to from home, industry analysts believe.

 

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