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Northwest Exporters Eye New Opportunities In Cuba

File photo of The Cuban Capitol in Havana.
Nigel Pacquette
File photo of The Cuban Capitol in Havana.

Northwest farmers and orchardists are among the potential beneficiaries if the U.S. and Cuba normalize their relationship and the trade embargo ends.

They're among many still trying to sort out what President Obama's announcement Wednesday of changes in Cuba policy could mean for them.

Kevin Moffitt of the Pear Bureau Northwest went on a trade mission to Cuba led by Washington Senator Maria Cantwell in 2002. That trip resulted in a deal that now allows Washington pear growers to sell an average of 40 tons of pears to Cuba each year.

That's a pretty small chunk of the pear export market. But Moffitt says he hopes the President's announcement will open doors for Oregon pear growers, too.

"I'm actually quite optimistic that this could turn into -- not a market like Mexico, of course -- but a good size market,” Moffitt said.

Business groups said it's too soon to know what the President's announcement will mean in the long run. But they said other potential Northwest exports to Cuba include wine, craft beer and seafood.

But Cuba might not be a suitable market for all Northwest agricultural products. Blake Rowe of the Oregon Wheat Growers League said it's a simple matter of geography. He said Northwest wheat will likely have a hard time competing with wheat grown in the central United States, which has easier access to Gulf Coast ports. Rowe said Oregon and Washington wheat will likely continue to export primarily to Pacific Rim markets.

President Obama's move to normalize relations does not lift the longstanding trade embargo against Cuba. Changes to that would require Congressional action.

Copyright 2014 Northwest News Network

Chris Lehman
Chris Lehman graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He landed his first job less than a month later, producing arts stories for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three years later he headed north to DeKalb, Illinois, where he worked as a reporter and announcer for NPR–affiliate WNIJ–FM. In 2006 he headed west to become the Salem Correspondent for the Northwest News Network.