The nonpartisan U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council says the first shipment of U.S. rice to Cuba in nine years apparently passed unnoticed in the ongoing debate over trade with the island nation. Based in New York, the council, which produces monthly reports on commerce involving the countries, says the comparatively small cargo of 157.8 tonnes of parboiled rice, some mixed with grain, was worth $252,000 and sailed from the Houston area.
According to the council, U.S. ag exports to Cuba totaled $232 million in 2016, up by 36% from $170.6 million in 2015. Frozen chicken meat accounted for 41% of sales in 2016; soybeans, soy oil, and soy meal were 28%; and corn was 16%. Since 2012, frozen chicken has been the number one purchase by Havana, although purchases plummeted to $78 million in 2015 during the bird flu epidemic. Sales rebounded to $95 million last year.
The rice shipment occurred at the end of 2016, but it takes a while for exports to be tallied by the Census Bureau and made public. Far larger rice sales, with a cumulative value of nearly $191 million, were recorded from 2002 to 2008.
U.S. farm groups have argued for a change in law to allow private financing of ag exports to Cuba. The sales were exempted from the overall U.S. trade embargo in 2000, but payment must be made in cash upon delivery. Some $5.3 billion in U.S. goods have been sold under the terms of the 2000 law.
This article was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an independent, nonprofit news organization producing investigative reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.