Farmers hope to expand business to Cuba

January 16, 2008 6:25:56 PM PST
A lot of Californians don't know that farmers here and across the U.S. are exporting goods to Cuba. Bill Clinton signed the law while he was president.

It allows agricultural and medical products, only, to be exported. California is hoping to tap into a market that could be worth millions to ranchers and farmers here.

Cuba may be a poor country, but California state leaders see it as a place of opportunity. An agricultural delegation is leaving on next week to scope out a potentially lucrative market for the first time.

"Eighteen different states have already been to Cuba on trade missions trying to sell products there," said A.G. Kawamura from the California Food and Agriculture Sector.

It's unclear why the state has been slow to take advantage of the opportunity to trade with Cuba since so much of the nation's agriculture is grown here.

Of the $180 million dollars of California-like products imported there, the Golden State shipped a only measly $700,000 worth of goods in 2006.

Though Cubans may be too poor to afford our products, state leaders hope they can snag a share of the island's booming tourism.

"They have a very demanding, like every country, demanding tourists that want to have high quality food. It might be wine. It might be fruits. We're very excited to see which products we can deliver there," said Kawamura.

Any boost in demand for California products will help the state's economy; the need to grow more could create more jobs.

Though Cubans living in California may not agree with increasing trade while Fidel Castro is in power, one expert says it is improving things there.

"It seems to me that the economy is maybe wining out over 45 years of politicians that really hasn't gone anywhere," said Professor Nancy Mirabal, Ph.D. from San Francisco State La Raza Studies.

Though Governor Schwarzenegger has trotted across the globe to sell California, he won't be going on this trip because he's dealing with problems closer to home.