South Dakota trade delegation optimistic about ag sales to Cuba Cuban foreign trade officials are anxious to purchase at least $10 million worth of agricultural products from South Dakota.
That was the message delivered to a large delegation of South Dakota agricultural and business leaders who recently returned from a trade mission to the island nation.
The Trade Sanctions Reform Act passed by Congress three years ago allowed American farm products to be sold directly to Cuba on a cash basis for the first time in more than 40 years. Since then Cuba has purchased more than $750 million worth of American agricultural products.
The South Dakota trade mission was organized by the Huron-based Value-Added Agricultural Development Center. Center President Gary Duffy of Oldham is optimistic that contracts will be signed and South Dakota farm products will be on the way to Cuba sometime during the next 12 months.
"Persistence and patience are the key words," Duffy said "Businesses that are persistent and do what needs to be done in dealing with both the U.S. government and the Cubans are going to have successes."
"There was one thing that the Cubans made very clear," he said. "They want to buy products from South Dakota and I tend to take them at their word."
Bill Aeschlimann, Kota Story Meats was ready to cut a deal. "Cuba is definitely interested in purchasing from Kota Story. We're working through the logistics of fulfilling a specific request right now." Aeschlimann had prepared Kota Story by obtaining an export license for Cuba.
"Cuba has already become an important market for American agriculture. It can and should be a good customer for South Dakota value-added products," said John Sumption, South Dakota Farmers Union State Board member.
American businesses involved in agricultural trade with Cuba need to apply for a license from the U.S. government. Trade negotiations are with Alimport, Cuba's trading company. Once contracts are signed, Cuban funds are deposited in a French bank where they are converted into Euros (currency of the European Economic Community ) and paid to the U.S. business.
Duffy said South Dakotans who want to do business with Cubans should be prepared for tough bargaining.
"They know their business," he said. "They know what they want and they know what they want to pay. We are competing against other states and other countries. It's a matter of who has the best product at the best price."
Scott VanderWal of South Dakota Farm Bureau said, "We made some valuable contacts and got acquainted with the people who buy food products for Cuba. We also became familiar with their food buying system and the way they do things."
Robert Weyrich, Agriculture Development Specialist from the South Dakota Department of Agriculture said, "Our intent was to foster business relationships. We can work through the challenges of trade with Cuba as we come to them."
Questions or comments about the trade delegation should be directed to Gary Duffy or Dallas Tonsager at the Value Added Agriculture Development Center, (605) 352-9177 or Robert Weyrich, South Dakota Department of Agriculture, (800) 228-5254.
Participants in the South Dakota trade mission included Duffy and Ron Freesemann, South Dakota Value-Added Agricultural Development Center; John Sumption and Chuck Groth, South Dakota Farmers Union; Scott VanderWal, South Dakota Farm Bureau; Bill Aeschlimann, Kota Story Meats; Randy Englund and Gregg Krebsbach, South Dakota Wheat Commission; Paul Iburg, HDP Farms Inc.; Jeff Sveen, John Waldner and John Wipf, Dakota Turkey Growers; John Mollison, Kota Story Meats; Bob Weyrich, South Dakota Department of Agriculture; Earl Nordby, Huron Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company; Dick Werner, South Dakota Rural Enterprise; Eddie Hamilton, South Dakota State University; Lewis Bainbridge, South Dakota Value-Added Development Center, and Pete Alpert, Ridgefield Farms.