Though President Obama earlier this month announced plans to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba and fewer trade and travel restrictions, several barriers still exist to fully streamlined meat trade between the U.S. and Cuba.
While restrictions on financial transactions and other constraints have made Cuba difficult to serve, the market has actually been open to U.S. meat exports for many years, says the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
U.S. pork exports to Cuba have been as high as $15.3 million in 2010, while the peak value for U.S. beef exports was just under $1 million in 2011.
As USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng explains, lack of private sector infrastructure and purchasing power are the main obstacles that must to be overcome in order for Cuba to develop into a reliable market for U.S. red meat.
"When we sell pork or beef or whatever the items may be to Cuba there's one buying organization, Alimport, which has been around for the last 30-40 years and they're the institution that buys all product coming through that one vector, so it's not like going and selling product in other countries," Seng says.
Additionally, the distribution and cold chain channels are not developed, Seng says. "We see a lot of potential for agricultural items, it's just going to take time to figure out where those niches are and how we can build on that," Seng says.
USMEF's involvement in the market has also been limited by the fact that USDA Market Access Program funding and checkoff funding cannot be utilized in Cuba, and no change in these policies has yet been announced, USMEF said.
"The state department has had restrictions on activities using…government dollars in Cuba," Seng says. "However we do have traders that have traded meat from the U.S. and from other countries that have familiarity with the market there, but there's still a lot of development and a lot of change that's going to have to occur in Cuba before we can declare its going to be one of the leading markets in the Caribbean."
"We see there's an opportunity there," Seng said, but because of the United States' limited presence in the country for the last 40 years, "a lot of our competitors definitely have a leg up on us."