Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Maine Looks to Cuba for $10 Million in Agriculture Deals

By Glenn Adams The Associated Press. Posted December 6 2005, 6:29 PM EST

AUGUSTA, Maine -- The state's agriculture industry is hoping to finalize agreements to export $10 million worth of Maine-produced seed potatoes, lumber and fish to Cuba.

Gov. John Baldacci is planning to join a trade mission to Cuba this weekend in an attempt to finish the deals. Representatives of several Maine industries are also
expected to attend.

The governor's participation shows that the state takes seriously its opportunity to do business with Cuba, said Richard Daives, a staff aide.

Maine's Legislature passed a resolution in 2002 to lift a trade embargo and normalize relations with Cuba.

The U.S. embargo limits travel and trade with Cuba, but food and agricultural products can be sold to the country on a cash-only basis under an exception created in 2000.

A year ago, a preliminary $10 million export agreement was signed by Robert Spear, then Maine's agriculture commissioner, and Pedro Alvarez Borrego, head of the Cuban import agency Alimport.

Some contracts under that agreement have already been executed, including one that exported Maine cows to Cuba. Other producers, including seed potatoes and apples, are looking to complete deals during the upcoming trade mission, said Doyle Marchant, president of Cedar Spring Agricultural Co. LLC and mission coordinator. Other potential contracts could benefit growers of tablestock potatoes, frozen fish, sardines, lumber, alpaca wool, pasta and dairy cattle, said Marchant.
"The Cubans are clearly looking to turn trade of agricultural products (into) an opportunity to open relations with the United States,'' said Marchant.

Representatives of the lumber, potato, biotech, seafood, wholesale grocery and cattle industries will participate. The mission is mostly financed by private funds, Davies said.

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