Cuba Buying Food From North Dakota

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

( - Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) says Cuba's food import agency is buying 2,000 metric tons of dried peas from North Dakota farmers.

Dorgan called the sale a "landmark deal" because it marked the first time in more than 40 years that North Dakota farm products have been sold to Cuba.

"We've known for a long while that Cuba has the potential to become a significant market for North Dakota's agricultural products," said Dorgan. "For years, I've worked to end the trade embargo against Cuba and open the market to farmers in North Dakota and throughout the U.S.

"I believe once Cuba sees the high quality of goods they've purchased, more agricultural sales to Cuba will be made," Dorgan added.

The import agency, Alimport, will buy dried peas from three North Dakota agricultural firms. Dorgan said a deal to sell black beans and pinto beans to Cuba will be announced soon.

The latest deal follows the State Department's recent refusal to let Cuban trade officials travel to the United States on a food-buying mission.

"Congress wants these sales to go forward," Dorgan said. "I remain dissatisified with the State Department's explanation of why it continues to block" Cuban agents from coming to the U.S.

In April, the State Department denied visas to several officials of Alimport, the Cuban food import agency, who were invited here by U.S. agribusiness officials interested in selling more of their products to Cuba.

The State Department gave no reason for the rejection, citing precedent instead.

While U.S. law permits food and medicine sales to Cuba, they must be paid for in cash rather than financed, something that irritates cash-strapped Cuban officials.

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