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First American apples arrive in Cuba after four decades as U.S. food shipments grow more regular

Associated Press Writer

HAVANA – (AP) July 12 2002 – A rush of cold air and a sweet fruity smell poured into the muggy tropical air as Cuban workers jerked open the metal container. The first direct shipment of American apples to this communist island in 40 years had arrived.

The 17 tons of Washington-grown Red Delicious apples, about 100,000 pieces of fruit in all, arrived Thursday, the latest import of American food since shipments began in December.

”Cuba represents a new market with a lot of potential,” said Rebecca J. Baerveldt, international marketing manager for the Washington Apple Commission as the shipment arrived.

The nonprofit commission has a license from the U.S. government to sell up to 15 loads to Cuba in the coming months and years, she said.

Communist officials first agreed to buy American food last November after Hurricane Michelle battered Cuba. They previously had refused to buy U.S. agricultural goods despite a 2000 U.S. law allowing them to do so.

The law was an exception to the U.S. trade embargo in place for more than 40 years, prohibiting most trade with Cuba. The measure was heavily backed by members of Congress from farm states seeking new markets for their constituents.

This first apple shipment, which arrived Thursday morning was sold to Cuba’s food import organization, Alimport, by the Northern Fruit Company of Wenatchee, Wash. The sweet smelling cargo was worth about $20,000, Northern Fruit marketing spokesman Jorge Sanchez said.

”It’s time that we gave American farmers access to this market,” said Doug Pauly, Northern Fruit’s operations manager.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash, lobbied for the sale of her state’s apples to Cuba after she visited the Caribbean island and met with President Fidel Castro. Washington farm leaders hope pears, cherries and other crops will follow.

Food purchased from other American states in recent months has included corn, rice, wheat, soy, poultry, vegetable oil, eggs and pork lard. Thursday’s cargo also included the first shipments of American dried beans and onions.

Since December, Cuba has bought, contracted or confirmed plans to buy about 650,000 tons of U.S. agricultural products worth about $102 million, according to the U.S. Cuba Trade and Economic Council of New York.

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