During typical trade missions to other countries, Missouri officials set goals about how much in products and services they want to sell prior to meeting with foreign dignitaries. The goal for a mission to Cuba next week is different. State Agriculture Director Richard Fordyce calls it “a fact-finding and relationship building journey”.
“We know the products that the Cubans are sourcing to other places. We know what those volumes are. It’s going to be an opportunity for us to start that conversation and develop that relationship with the appropriate people in Cuba,” said Fordyce.
Missouri officials want to understand what infrastructure capabilities and challenges there are, what the port system is like and how products would be distributed to Cubans.
Ports and rivers would play a key role in trading goods with Cuba according to Fordyce.
“I think we can put product in the port, which would be a superior product from a quality standpoint and a superior product from a customer service standpoint, cheaper,” said Fordyce. “At the end of the day, that’s what’s going to get us business in Cuba.”
The approach Missouri officials are taking on this trip is largely due to an embargo, which limits American businesses from trading with Cuban interests. The trade restrictions date back to the Dwight Eisenhower presidency in the 1960’s, in a bitter fight about oil and money.
Cuba must pay cash for all imports, no credit or IOU’s. Despite the embargo, the United States is the fifth largest exporter to Cuba.
Fordyce says as trade restrictions are softened by the U.S. government, Missouri can play an important role in moving agricultural products to Cuba. He sees real potential for corn, soybeans, rice, meat and dairy to be part of future trade deals there. Missouri-grown rice was a significant export to Cuba prior to the embargo, benefitting farmers in the southeast part of the state.
Missouri ranks second in the country in bio diesel production and state officials will discuss bio fuels during the trip. Fordyce hopes to help Cuba with its air pollution problem.
“We were out one night in Havana. The breeze had kind of quit blowing. Your eyes started to burn and your throat started to burn,” said Fordyce.
The delegation will include Fordyce, along with Governor Jay Nixon, First Lady Georganne Nixon and Missouri Department of Economic Development Director Mike Downing. Other members of the trade delegation include Dr. Carlos Vargas, President of Southeast Missouri State University; Gary Wheeler, of the Missouri Soybean Association; Silvia Hollis, of Mid-Continent Aircraft, Hayti; Thorstein Holt, of Holtec Gas Systems, Chesterfield; Brady Moses, of SatCommX, Lampe; Jeffrey Fort, of MOM Brands Sales, St. Louis; and several representatives of Martin Rice, of Bernie.