In spite of continued Congressional support of a 50-year old policy of trade restrictions against Cuba, U.S. rice industry representatives are gathering in Havana this week for the annual International Trade Fair of Havana (FIHAV) in hopes of developing new trade strategies and gathering support for overturning the U.S. embargo, which would re-open the Cuba market to U.S. rice producers.

Dwight Roberts, CEO of the Texas Rice Council, says a large contingent of agricultural representatives from Texas is among those attending the week-long Cuban fair, including members of Alliance Texas-Cuba for Trade. The fair gets underway Monday, Oct. 31, and runs through Saturday, Nov. 5, at the EXPOCUBA exhibition hall in Cuba’s capital city.

“After sales of U.S. agricultural products to Cuba were authorized in 2000, U.S. rice sales to the island rose to $64 million annually in 2004. Since that time, U.S. rice sales to Cuba have fallen to zero. For several years in a row, there have been no sales of U.S. rice to Cuba due to the current restriction forcing the use of third country banks to process payments,” Roberts said. “Easing the embargo and opening the market again would be a major benefit for Texas producers.”

Cynthia Thomas of Alliance Texas-Cuba for Trade agrees. She says her research on the Cuba embargo reveals that none of the stated outcomes or goals of the embargo have come to pass and says engagement with Cuba is a much more effective tool than an economic embargo.

“Lifting the embargo would open the door for Texas farmers to a potential $57 million in food and agricultural exports that could result in 1,500 new jobs,” she says.

Thomas, along with Ray Stoesser, Chairman of the US Rice Producers Association (USRPA) board of directors, are in Cuba this week along with a “very large contingent” of industry representatives from Texas in hopes of identifying new markets not only in Cuba but also from among hundreds of trade representatives of the international community.

The annual International Trade Fair of Havana is one of Cuba’s strategies to expand its market of productions and services and to mitigate the effects of the economic blockade imposed by the United States on the Caribbean nation.