Virginia expects food exports to Cuba to rise

by Bryan Salvage
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RICHMOND, VA. — Virginia's state officials said agricultural exports to Cuba from their state are expected to increase by more than 10% this year, according to The Associated Press.

Agricultural exports to Cuba, including poultry, apples and soybeans, were worth about $45 million in the first nine months of 2009, according to preliminary figures from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. That compares with $40.7 million worth of exports in all of 2008.

Agriculture Commissioner Todd Haymore says Cuban officials told a state delegation that recently visited the communist nation that agricultural imports from the U.S. would be down about 37% in 2009.

Looking at the bigger picture regarding red-meat exports to Cuba, the U.S. and Canada are the main suppliers of pork to Cuba, with Jan.-Sept. exports up 84% over last year for the U.S. and 86% for Canada, Joe Schuele, U.S. Meat Export Federation spokesman, told MEATPOULTRY.com. "U.S. exports totaled 4,773 metric tons valued at $9.2 million while Canada shipped 3,233 metric tons valued at $7.2 million. Exports to Cuba are mainly frozen muscle cuts," he added.

The E.U. is the largest supplier of beef to Cuba, but export data is only available through July, Mr. Schuele said. E.U. exports are mainly prepared/preserved beef from Italy, totaling 1,611 metric tons through July (up from zero last year). The U.S., Chile and Canada were the other main suppliers of beef and beef variety meats to Cuba.

Through September, U.S. exports were up 31% over last year to 567 metric tons, but this was all beef liver, he added. Chile and Canada saw a drop in exports of 13% and 64%, totaling 364 and 275 metric tons respectively (mainly frozen beef). Brazil and Argentina also exported even smaller volumes to Cuba.

"Among red meats, Cuba holds the most promise for pork, for reasons related to both price and preferred cuisine," Mr. Schuele said. "Cuba certainly holds interest for the U.S. meat industry — but it’s difficult to evaluate the potential of the market with so many political and economic barriers in place."

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