Foreign Policy Blogs

Cutting food imports in hardship

Completely unrelated to U.S.-Cuban diplomatic relations (or lack thereof), Cuban imports of U.S. agricultural products—exempted from the 48-year embargo since the year 2000—declined by 26 percent last year, from a peak of $710 million in 2008 to $528 million in 2009. The United States remains the largest seller of food to Cuba. American analysts judge the drop to be an effect of the financial and economic problems that continue to trouble the Cuban government in 2010 and have resulted in various “belt-tightening” measures.

The Associated Press reports:

“The decrease has nothing to do with U.S. regulations, U.S. law or U.S. policy,” said John Kavulich, a senior policy analyst at the council. “It is a function of Cuba not having the resources.”

Kavulich said Cuba has increasingly turned to other countries like Vietnam that will sell it lower-quality food and not ask for payment for as long as two years.

The decline in food imports is a function of not having the resources—correct—but it is also part of the Cuban regime’s long-term plan to reduce dependence upon food imports. Cuba imports about 70% of the food it consumes, but is working to become more self-reliant. Last year the state began a five-year plan to boost output and reduce bulk food imports, with the intent of slashing imports of rice, bean and powdered milk (Cuban diet staples) by 50 percent by 2013. Results have already been apparent: Cuban rice production jumped 44.6 percent, dried beans 9.6 percent and milk 10.8 percent in 2009.



Melissa Lockhart Fortner

Melissa Lockhart Fortner is Senior External Affairs Officer at the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles, having served previously as Senior Programs Officer for the Council. From 2007-2009, she held a research position at the University of Southern California (USC) School of International Relations, where she closely followed economic and political developments in Mexico and in Cuba, and analyzed broader Latin American trends. Her research considered the rise and relative successes of Latin American multinationals (multilatinas); economic, social and political changes in Central America since the civil wars in the region; and Wal-Mart’s role in Latin America, among other topics. Melissa is a graduate of Pomona College, and currently resides in Pasadena, California, with her husband, Jeff Fortner.

Follow her on Twitter @LockhartFortner.