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Hall County business representatives optimistic about trade with Cuba
Truelove Dairy Owner Jerry Truelove scratches the head of one of his dairy cows at his Clermont dairy farm Wednesday afternoon. Truelove joined other business people recently on a trip to Cuba with Gov. Sonny Perdue to search for potential trade and tourism opportunities.

Hall County’s representatives on Gov. Sonny Perdue’s recent trip to Cuba are optimistic about American trade with the country.

Both Jerry Truelove, of Truelove Dairy in Clermont, and Mike Giles, of the Georgia Poultry Federation in Gainesville, were among the 43-person delegation that took part in the trip.

“We met with the folks that do the buying for Cuba,” Truelove said.

“It was an opportunity to make those initial contacts, to let them know that we’re interested in doing business with them.”

According to Perdue, the goal of the visit to Havana was to “develop relationships that can bring more business for our companies and our state.”

In addition to Giles and Truelove, other members of the delegation included representatives of the Georgia Agribusiness Council, Georgia Department of Economic Development and Georgia Ports Authority.

During the trip, Perdue led a roundtable talk between the U.S. delegation and representatives from Cuba’s main commodities purchasing agency.

Although the Cuban government may not be in a position to commit to contracts with the Georgia business owners, the trip was still worthwhile, Truelove said.

“We have some good products here — from fruits and vegetables, to poultry and lumber and dairy products,” he said.

“I don’t think there were any contracts signed, but we all got good leads out of the trip.”

According to the U.S. Department of State, the Cuban economy has suffered greatly over the last several years because of falling sugar and nickel prices — two of the country’s top exports.

In 2007 the country’s gross domestic product — which is often used to measure an economy’s health — grew by 7.3 percent, the State Department reports. However, in 2008 the GDP’s growth slowed to 4.1 percent and dropped to 1.4 percent last year.

Despite its lagging economy, food products continue to be one of Cuba’s largest imports. According to Perdue’s office, Georgia ranks third in U.S. exporters to Cuba — with top exports including poultry, soybeans and pork products.

State officials say Georgia’s ports and facilities like Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport make the state an attractive trade partner for the country, which is located around 100 miles south of Florida.

“I went to represent the dairy farmers of Georgia and to let the Cuban folks know that we have a good source of fresh milk for them,” Truelove said.

“When they’re ready, we can ship it out and get it to them.”