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US reaches deal to research Cuban agri consumers

Forty research and marketing groups will collect and share information on Cuban agri markets.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Cuba have agreed to allow 22 US industry-funded research programmes and 18 marketing order organisations to analyse Cuba’s $2 billion agriculture import market.

The organisations will form research partnerships with Cuban industry and government groups on agricultural productivity, food security and sustainable natural resource management. They will meet with Cuban officials to talk about the country’s nutrition rules and study Cuban consumer preferences.

The USDA plans to open an office in Cuba in 2017.

The US Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC) has repeatedly called for an end to the US embargo on Cuba and Cuban restrictions on importers of US goods, worried US agriculture is missing export and investment opportunities in the Caribbean country. The coalition is backed by industry heavyweights including Cargill, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and the National Grain and Feed Association.

An amendment to American trade sanctions in 2000 allowed agricultural exports to Cuba, but prohibitions on extending credit to Cuban buyers have limited trade. Agri exports to Cuba reached a peak of $658 million in 2008, nearly 40 percent of Cuban agri imports, but fell to $300 million in 2014, around 16 percent of agri imports.

“We have to compete in order to negotiate. But right now we’re hamstrung because we can’t export products on credit and other countries can, and there’s no foreign direct investment opportunities yet,” USACC vice chair Paul Johnson recently told Agri Investor. “I think we have to get to the point where we can compete and negotiate. And then I think, over time, opportunities will present themselves.”