After a four-day trade mission in Havana and other rice industry areas of Cuba, the USA Rice - led delegation returned to the United States with a stronger trade relationship and a better understanding of Cuba's rice needs.

“Cuba is estimated to import 550,000 tons of rice this year, however, only a fifth of that comes from the U.S. due to U.S.-imposed export restrictions,” said USA Rice Chairman Gary Sebree, a rice grower from Arkansas. “However, if that market was made available to us, it would become a top market overnight. This visit helped to further strengthen or relationship with the buyers of rice, the users of rice, and most importantly, the consumers of rice in Cuba.”

The USA Rice delegation was the largest and most visible among the estimated 400 farmers and food traders in Havana to make trade contacts. During a week of activities designed to promote U.S. rice in Cuba, the delegation met with the president and CEO of ALIMPORT, Cuba's food import agency, who signed a joint communiqué with USA Rice, pledging to continue joint promotion efforts and work to create a more open trade environment. In addition, contracts were signed for the future delivery of U.S. rice.

While full two-way trade between the U.S. and Cuba is prohibited, cash sales of U.S. agriculture goods are allowed. The USA Rice delegation made a commitment to try to lower trade barriers in the U.S. so that two-way trade can be reestablished. The group met with leadership of Cuba's rice industry, touring and learning about the country's production capabilities and milling industry, and went into retail establishments to renew ties with major rice retailers on the supermarket side and in the popular market segment.

In addition to Sebree, the delegation included USA Rice President and CEO Stuart Proctor, Director of Latin American Promotions Marvin Lehrer, and the following USA Rice members: rice producers Linda Zaunbrecher of Gueydan, La., and Paul T. Combs of Kennett, Mo., Terry Harris of Arkansas-based Riceland Foods, Marvin Baden of Arkansas-based Producer's Rice Mill, Antonio Benavides and Javier Ferrer of Texas-based Riviana Foods, and Ramiro Velasquez of California-based The Rice Co.

The USA Rice Federation is the national advocate for all segments of the rice industry, conducting activities to influence government programs, developing and initiating programs to increase worldwide demand for U.S. rice, and providing other services to increase industry profitability for all industry segments. For more information, visit www.usarice.com.