More obstacles for Cuba to purchase food in the US

News from Cuba | Tuesday, 11 August 2009

from Granma International

Cuba’s food and agriculture purchases from the US have dropped over the last few years, due to the difficult conditions imposed by Washington’s blockade on these imports.

Pedro Álvarez, president of Alimport, the Cuban company in charge of food marketing, explained that these buys, after maintaining an upward trend until 2005, when they reached the highest volumes, have experienced a decrease over the last three years, although according to all odds they should have continued to increase, given the benefit they represent for both parties.

The fall of import volumes, Pedro Álvarez told the weekly magazine Opciones, is due to the fact that the maintenance of the blockade and the strengthening of obstacles for purchases make imports unsafe, which adds to the lack of credit.

For this reason, Alimport has diverted imports that used to be made from the United States to safer markets without impediments for exports to Cuba and that at the same time grant credit, aspects to be taken into account in times when the international economic crisis has had a bearing on food prices.

The executive underlined that with these many problems there’s no way the volume of imports from the US to Cuba can increase, in spite of the responsibility of US entrepreneurs, the quality of products, and the geographic proximity, the only advantages offered at the moment.

He explained that the devious objections legislated by the US government include the regulation that all of that country’s companies, to initiate contacts with Cuba, have to request a license from the Treasury Department in order for their representatives to travel to the island.

In the case that an agreement is reached, the US entrepreneurs must request another permit from their country’s Department of Trade, before signing any document. Once the business transaction is sealed, a Letter of Credit issued by a Cuban bank on a European bank and from the latter to a corresponding US bank is needed, and finally, from the supplier’s bank.

Since at least three or four banks participate in these transactions, additional costs are generated, as well as a higher risk of errors in the handling of documents. Moreover, the bank of the third country also needs a license from the US Treasury Department in order to operate.

In addition, shipping companies, in order to transport goods to Cuba, require another license issued by the US Treasury Department and, after unloading in a Cuban port, they must return empty to their country, since the United States doesn’t authorize imports of products from the island.

And if this weren’t enough, a more recent regulation allows US coastguards to intercept and search a ship travelling with merchandise from their country to Cuba, arbitrarily arguing that the Caribbean nation lacks the necessary controls to prevent possible terrorist acts. (ACN)

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