Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Trade a possiblity with Cuba, farmers interested

The Daily Times

April 4, 2007

By Sara Smith
Staff Writer


BETHANY BEACH -- Delmarva farmers are on board with a plan to export their products to Cuba.

"I think it's a great thing," said Danny Magee of Magee Farms in Williamsville.

His family grows vegetables and grains and raise chickens for Mountaire Farms. "The more places we can sell our products, the better."

Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Michael Scuse visited Cuba in March, speaking with officials about the possibility of exporting poultry, soybeans, red winter wheat, apples and dairy cows.

While Cuba cannot export any of its products to the United States as a result of a 45-year embargo, the island nation can import agriculture and medical supplies from the United States. Thirty-five states have already started exporting products to Cuba, Scuse said.

While an increase in demand for Mountaire's chickens would trickle down to chicken growers, selling products like soybeans wholesale would also be beneficial, Magee said.

"The more demand for Mountaire is good for us," he said. "I do know they're talking about wheat and grains and poultry. I'd hope that there'd be some vegetables."

Many in the poultry industry support trade with Cuba.

"Sussex County is a large poultry producing county and Kent County also," Delaware Farm Bureau President Ed Justice said. "Any time we can open up new markets for poultry it would be good for us."

Mountaire Farms doesn't currently ship poultry to Cuba, largely because most Cuba-bound ships leave from the Gulf of Mexico.

"We're too far away for it to pay for us," said Mike Little, Mountaire Farms' International Sales Manager. "I can say we're interested in opportunities."

And the opportunity may come in the near future.

"I'm hopeful -- as well as many of my counterparts across the United States --that in a short period of time, through the trade we're currently doing with the Cuban government, that some of the barriers, if not all of the barriers, will be lifted in the not-too-distant future," Scuse said.

He added that trade and travel restrictions against the country are "unfair."

"If you look at our policies toward Cuba in the last 45 years, they really have not had a significant impact on the government," Scuse said. "But, having been there, they have had a negative impact on the citizens of Cuba."

Reaction to the possibility of Delaware trading with Cuba has been mixed, Scuse said.

"I have had e-mails that did not think we should be trading with Cuba for various reasons," he said. "But when you look at countries that have issues -- China, Libya, North Korea, Iran, some countries in Africa -- that we can legally trade with, it doesn't make much sense for us to have policies toward a country that's 95 miles off our coast that haven't worked in the last 45 years."

Magee agrees that in today's world, an embargo with Cuba makes no sense.

"We do business with China, we do business with Russia," he said. "The world's a global economy. Everybody trades with everybody. We buy oil off some very shady characters."

sarasmith@dmg.gannett.com

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