U.S. wheat growers donate flour to Cuba; seek access to market

by Teresa Acklin
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   HAVANA, CUBA — U.S. wheat producers from three states donated 20 tonnes of flour to the people of Cuba in early December, according to Paul Dickerson, vice-president of U.S. Wheat Associates. The flour was distributed by Caritas Cubana, a division of the Catholic Church's international humanitarian relief organization.

   This was the second shipment of private humanitarian aid supplied by U.S. wheat producers this year, Mr. Dickerson said. A similar shipment was sent to Cuba in February.

   Producers in Kansas, North Carolina and North Dakota funded the latest donation through U.S. Wheat Associates, which is based in Washington, D.C.

   The flour arrived at the port of Havana while members of the Caribbean Millers' Association gathered in that city for their third annual meeting.

   U.S. wheat growers and other representatives of the U.S. grain industry also attended the meeting. “We felt it would be timely for us to get to know the Cuban market better,” Mr. Dickerson said.

   He said U.S. wheat producers are increasingly interested in gaining access to the Cuban market, which continues to be blocked by a longstanding U.S. trade embargo.

   U.S. trade sanctions against countries like Cuba deprive the U.S. wheat industry acess to markets accounting for as much as 10% of world wheat imports, Mr. Dickerson said. Many wheat growers would like to see the curbs on trade with these nations lifted at least to the extent that food and medical sales are allowed, he said.

   Mr. Dickerson estimated Cuba's current flour market at around 1 million tonnes a year.

   The European Union is currently the largest wheat and flour supplier to Cuba, followed by Canada. Freight costs paid by Cuba to ship wheat imports from Europe are double what it would cost that nation to bring wheat from U.S. Gulf ports, Mr. Dickerson said. Logistics and compatibility between U.S. wheat and Cuba's end-use needs makes the U.S. the natural, logical supplier to the island, he said.