Cuba’s Minister of Agriculture, Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero, made an official visit to the United States last week together with a delegation of officials from other Cuban ministries. Minister Rollero’s visit was preceded by a February 2016 visit from Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuba’s Foreign Trade Minister. These visits marked the first US visits from senior Cuban government officials in over 50 years. President Obama, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon have also made their own historic visits to Cuba within recent months. Secretary Vilsack’s visit included a meeting in Havana to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (the “MOU”) between the US Department of Agriculture and the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture enabling the two agencies to cooperate in fields such as phytosanitary standards, plant and animal sanitation, organic production methods, climatology and irrigation through collaborative efforts such as information exchange and scientific research.
During his visit, Minister Rollero discussed the MOU and informed the US Chamber of Commerce that Cuba is currently importing $2 billion in agricultural commodities every year. Cuba’s Ministry of Agriculture expects Cuba’s food demands to increase as the Cuban tourism industry continues to expand. As a result, the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture has developed a long term plan to eliminate 50% of Cuba’s commodity imports by the year 2030. This plan consists of: (1) developing approximately 6.2 million hectares of ground for local crop and livestock production in order to produce food locally instead of importing it, (2) revising Cuba’s commodity importing practices in order to more strategically import crops such as wheat and rice which are difficult to grow in Cuba, and (3) increasing exports of specialty Cuban commodities such as tropical fruit, coffee, tobacco and honey (particularly in organic markets). Minister Rollero acknowledged that Cuba will need to acquire a significant amount of modern farming equipment to accomplish its 2030 plan and noted that most of the farming machinery currently available in Cuba is over 40 years old. He also noted that Cuban buyers and the Cuban government (which purchases farming equipment on behalf of government-owned farming cooperatives) will request extended payment terms when purchasing this equipment.
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