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Castro's resignation could boost poultry exports to Cuba, helping Georgia

POSTED: March 2, 2008 5:01 a.m.

With Cuba as the sixth-largest market for U.S. poultry exports, Georgia’s agricultural and poultry community is hopeful that a change in Cuba’s leadership is a good sign for growth.

Cuba purchased 95,504 metric tons of broilers in 2007 with a market value of $76.4 million.

"Cuba has grown to be a top 10 export market for U.S. broilers, and the Cuban people are enjoying them," said Mike Giles, senior vice president of the Georgia Poultry Federation. "The trade relationship between agricultural producers in the U.S. and the Cuban government is strong, and I would expect that to continue regardless of who follows President Castro."

Giles was a part of a Georgia delegation led by Commissioner of Agriculture Tommy Irvin that visited Cuba in recent years.

Irvin was equally optimistic about the prospect for Georgia-grown products bound for the island nation.

"Castro invited me to come and see him, and I did," Irvin said. "I was the first state ag chief in the U.S. to make a move toward agricultural trade with Cuba. The biggest drawback we had was that our own administration in the U.S. didn’t want us doing business with Cuba. I believe that will change."

Irvin said Georgia products could help average Cubans.

"The Cuban people need our help to raise their standard of living," Irvin said. "They are 40 years behind the times."

Toby Moore of the U.S. Poultry & Egg Export Council in Stone Mountain said he believes Castro’s departure may be good for trade.

"I think it is an encouraging sign, and we hope the current situation develops to the point where U.S. policies are relaxed," Moore said. "That’s both in terms of trade and travel. We believe that the biggest thing the U.S. could do to help Cuba is to allow tourists to travel down there, and that would open up additional doors for trade"

Irvin said there was similar resistance when the U.S. began establishing agricultural trade with what was then the Soviet Union.

"People would say, ‘You want to do business with the communists?’" Irvin said. "I just told them I wanted to do business. We have food and they need food."

One great advantage for the poultry industry is that both Cuban and Russian markets prefer dark meat chicken, where the U.S. market prefers white meat. The poultry sold to the Cuban market is either directly from poultry companies or through third-party brokers. U.S. policy requires cash payments from Cuba for food products purchased for shipment there.


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