Cuba could send 1M cases of rum to post-embargo US

News from Cuba | Wednesday, 21 October 2009

By Will Weissert for the Associated Press

Cuba is ready to ship 1 million cases of rum to America if Washington eases its 47-year-old embargo, but would hold off exporting its flagship Havana Club brand because of US trademark battles, one of the island's top rum executives said Wednesday.

US trade sanctions have cost Cuba's rum industry $95 million annually in lost sales and additional spending to import production materials including glass bottles and machinery from Europe instead of from its neighbor to the north, said Juan Gonzalez, vice president of Cuba Ron SA, the communist state's rum production monopoly.

Cuban rums can't be sold in the United States, but they are available in more than 120 countries, Gonzalez said, noting that the company sold 4 million cases in 2008. Of that, Havana Club counts for all but about half a million cases.

The global financial crisis should cut into sales this year, but Cuba still hopes sell 5 million cases a year by 2013, Gonzalez said. The government does not release figures on revenue.

Cuba's domestic rum market is its top customer, followed by Spain, France, Greece, Chile and Russia. Gonzalez said the United States accounts for 40 percent of the global rum market.

President Barack Obama has eased restrictions on Cuban-Americans who want to travel or send money to Cuba and both countries have taken tentative steps toward improving long-frigid relations - though the White House had said it has no plans to push Congress to lift the embargo.

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