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Doing Business with Cuba, Despite Embargo
CNBC.com | March 23, 2012 | 11:54 AM EDT

In Corpus Christi, Texas, beans are being bagged by the thousands and shipped off to a country that for decades was considered forbidden. That country is, of course, Cuba and the beans being sent there are grown in North Dakota, according to WestStar Food President Pat Wallesen.

“When I tell people, they’ll ask, 'What do you do?' And we tell them we export some beans to Cuba and they’re like, 'Well you can’t do that, can ya?'” he said.

He not only can, he has. For the past nine years, Wallesen has been filling entire container ships with 10,000 bags of beans at a time. He says the last shipment he sent to Cuba was worth $3.2 million.

So, how is this legal with an embargo in place? In 2000, Congress passed reforms to that embargo allowing U.S.-based companies to export approved products to Cuba . And it’s not just beans. In fact, there are hundreds of items on a United States Commerce Department list of goods that can be exported to Cuba.

According to AgriLIFE Extension at Texas A&M, U.S. exports to Cuba peaked in 2008 at $711 million, but that number has declined in recent years. In 2010, AgriLIFE Extension says $94.8 million in corn, $99.8 million in frozen chicken and $17.8 million in wheat were exported from the United States to Cuba.

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