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12/23/04 - AP - Cuba buying $1 million in N.D. peas

By Dave Kolpack, Associated Press
Published Thursday, December 23, 2004

Cuba has agreed to buy more than $1 million worth of yellow peas from North
Dakota while industry officials sort though a new trade proposal that could
change future negotiations.

A North Dakota trade delegation secured a deal in October to sell 5,000
metric tons of peas to Cuba, with a verbal agreement for an additional
20,000 metric tons. A contract was completed last week for about 10,000
metric tons to be shipped early next year, the North Dakota Dry Pea and
Lentil Association said.

State Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson said the agreement was
negotiated by Larry White, the marketing director for the association.

"Hat's off to Larry," Johnson said. "He went down there on his own and was
able to make an impact."

Earlier efforts by North Dakota delegations have allowed the state to
establish strong trade relations with Cuba, White said.

"The trust factor comes into play," White said. "They were a little
reluctant this time around, so we had to reassure them that we were back to
the status quo."

Johnson and White said negotiations were made more difficult by a Bush
administration proposal on currency exchange. State officials are unsure if
they can continue to use a third party to broker deals without advance payment.

"The new policy suggests that the bank would have to be paid ... before the
goods are even shipped," Johnson said. "We don't do business with any other
country that way. That's not the way international business is being done."

North Dakota is the nation's leading producer of dry edible peas. The state
produces about 123,000 metric tons a year, a figure that will likely
increase with the Cuba deal, White said.

"The United States only supplies about 10 percent of what Cuba buys around
the world," White said.

"The market has a lot of room for expansion."

Johnson said that with the proposed administration changes, deals are being
approved on a case-by-case basis.

"They haven't announced what their official change is going to be, but the
way we have been doing business has at least been temporarily interrupted,"
he said. "Everybody is a little bit in limbo."

The proposed changes may be illegal, said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.

"This wrong-headed policy is doing nothing to bring down Fidel Castro," he
said. "It just hurts American farmers and violates the spirit of the law
allowing these sales to go forward."

The United States has sold nearly $1 billion worth of crops to Cuba in the
last three years, Dorgan said.


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