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Cuba cuts US food imports 28 per cent

America is largest food seller to Caribbean neighbour

AP

Thursday, August 12, 2010 | 1:10 PM    

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HAVANA, Cuba — Cash-strapped Cuba has continued to slash agricultural purchases from the United States even as a key bill that would ease Washington's Cuban travel ban and make it easier to sell more food to the island works its way through Congress, according to a report released today.

Imports fell 28 per cent through the first six months of the year to about US$220 million. That follows a 26 per cent slippage to US$528 million in 2009, down from a peak of $710 million the year before, according to the New York-based US-Cuba Economic Trade Council.

"There are no indications that the Cuban economy is going to rebound to the extent that the Cuban government will be able to substantially increase its level of purchasing of food and agricultural products to those it reached in years past," John Kavulich, senior policy adviser for the council, said by telephone.

The island has been weakened by the global economic crisis and a drop in revenues from tourism and the natural resources it exports. It is also struggling to recover from three hurricanes two summers ago.

The council does not include shipping and transaction costs when calculating Cuban funds spent on U.S. imports, meaning its figures are lower than those Havana releases.

Still, all sides agree the communist government has reduced imports from all its major trading partners. It has made a special effort to stop buying foreign food, however, while launching campaigns to increase domestic farm production.

But so far, food output across Cuba has remained mostly stagnant, and the cuts in imports have sparked periodic shortages of such staples as rice.

US farm exporters have been hit especially hard by Cuba's belt-tightening because — despite the 48-year-old trade embargo against the island — America is the largest seller of food to Cuba. Food and agriculture products have been exempted from the embargo since 2000, though Cuba must pay cash up front.

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