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Idaho Potato Commission Looks To Cuba For Future Business

As part of its effort to identify and develop new markets for Idaho potatoes and potato products, the Idaho Potato Commission participated in a mission to Cuba:

Pictured above, Idaho Potato Commission representatives, Frank Muir and Pat Kole (second and third from left respectively), are at a Cuban farm with Governor C.L. ‘Butch’ Otter (second from right), Cuban agriculture officials and an official from Alimport, the country’s official purchasing organization

Idaho Potato Commission Opening Doors to Cuba

The Idaho Potato Commission (IPC) was recently part of a delegation of 35 Idahoans, including Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, who traveled to Cuba to meet with government officials to discuss trade opportunities between Cuba and Idaho. The Commission focused primarily on ways to sell fresh and/or processed Idaho Potatoes into Cuba as potatoes are an important staple in the Cuban diet.

“One of the IPC’s overall strategies to is expand distribution of Idaho Potato products to all areas around the globe and this Cuban mission was an important step in helping to open forays to this country that has been, for so long, off limits to American exports,” said Frank Muir, President and CEO, Idaho Potato Commission. “The good news is that there is great interest from the Cubans in importing Idaho Potatoes, specifically seed potatoes and frozen French Fries. It’s not going to happen overnight as there are still many governmental challenges, which will hopefully become resolved with time.”

Other Idaho industries represented on this mission included: wheat, beef, dairy, pork, and medical supplies. Several universities were represented along with the Idaho Department of Agriculture.

The Pundit was in Cuba about five years ago. The laws had just been changed and U.S. firms were now permitted to sell food, medicines and a few other agricultural products, such as lumber, to Cuba, provided they paid up front. It was, and is, still illegal for a U.S. company to extend credit to Cuba.

It was an unusual opportunity. They held a trade show but there is only one organization, Alimport, that is permitted to buy so they seemed to bus in a bunch of government employees to fill up the hall.

I remember seeing Kevin Moffitt, President and CEO of the Pear Bureau Northwest, being overwhelmed as people stood in amazement around his booth as most had never seen a pear.

Fidel Castro was there as well, decked out in his three-piece suit, trying to make every contract signed seem like a major international event.

It is five years later and the people of Cuba still suffer, lacking both political and economic freedom.

It is not certain what is the best strategy to help free Cuba. Some argue continuing the boycott and keeping Cuba isolated to whatever extent we can, raises the cost of oppression. Others argue that the more we trade, the more Cubans have interaction with Americans, the more likely American ideas will sweep Cuba.

Castro is quite ill and so change is bound to occur soon.

Ironically, although all the effort has been on selling product to Cuba, when liberation comes, Cuba is more likely to figure on the production side of the business.

Grandpa Pundit, aka Harry Prevor, used to handle Isle of Pines grapefruit and various vegetables from Cuba. The Cubans still ship a little grapefruit to Europe, having made a deal with an Israeli company to manage the groves.

But a free Cuba will have great agricultural potential. And a free Cuba will see tourism boom and its own population will become more affluent, so there will be plenty of opportunity to sell to Cuba as well.

It will take time though. There are land claims to settle, and many of Cuba’s most successful citizens fled the country a long time ago and a half century of communism is bound to dull the work ethic.

Following the Pundit’s trip to Cuba, we published a column in PRODUCE BUSINESS, the Pundit’s sister publication, which you can read right here.

We also had Rhoda Rabkin, author of a much respected book on Cuba, do a cover story for PRODUCE BUSINESS entitled Cuba: Today’s Newest Customer…Or Tomorrow’s Biggest Competitor? Dr. Rabkin also produced a special “white paper” on Cuba and the opportunities and obstacles for the produce industry in evaluating business opportunities with Cuba. You can read that white paper right here.

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