'Tense' might best describe the political relationship between the United States and Cuba over the last 50 years. Yet, expanded efforts by both governments over the last decade suggest that U.S. farm exports could increase to the Caribbean island.

The U.S. placed a trade and travel embargo on Cuba 50 years ago shortly after Fidel Castro assumed leadership. This action essentially eliminated all U.S. trade with the communist nation.

Parr Rosson discussed U.S. - Cuba farm trade issues during the 2011 World Ag Expo in Tulare, Calif.

Rosson is an Extension agricultural economist and director of the Center for North American Studies (CNAS) with Texas AgriLife Extension at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas. CNAS promotes agricultural relationships between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, and works to resolve trade issues.

Enacted U.S. legislation over the last decade and a technicality linked to the Swiss Embassy have somewhat thawed U.S.-Cuban farm trade relations. The Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Act of 2000 opened the door to some U.S. farm, forestry, and medicinal trade with Cuba. Cuban products are prohibited in the U.S.

The Swiss connection allows the U.S. to have an ‘Interests Section’ office in Havana. The Cubans have an Interests Section office in Washington, D.C. Potential U.S. farm exporters work with the Washington office initially to pursue exports to Cuba. Alimport, the Cuban food agency, buys U.S. products including farm goods.

Rosson says the U.S. exported $4 billion in farm products, mostly feed stuffs, to Cuba from 2002 to 2008. About 95 percent of the total included corn, wheat, soybeans and soybean meal.

The largest U.S. value-added product exported to Cuba is poultry. Other export items include pork, dry beans and processed foods. Smaller amounts of U.S.-grown apples, pears and grapes are exported to Cuba.

U.S. farm shipments to the island nation, located about 90 miles south of the Florida Keys, fell 25 percent in 2009 due to decreased Cuban revenues from its tourism and mined nickel industries.