California, America's top food producing state, has sent its first official agricultural trade delegation to Cuba to create future food sales opportunities.
Since the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, which authorised the US to engage in travel-related transactions with Cuba, the island has imported more than $1.8bn in agricultural products.
California Food and Agriculture Secretary A G Kawamura hopes to tap into this large market, having been left behind somewhat while other states have stormed ahead to reach Cuba.
According to media reports, California sold about $735,000 in products to Cuba in 2006, just 0.4 percent of all products imported by Cuba. However, the state predicted that the figure could be increased to $180 million.
"Cuba represents a good potential future market for California agriculture and is one that will directly benefit California companies," said Kawamura.
Kawamura is leading a delegation comprised of 18 California agricultural leaders, who were selected upon their commitment to international trade and their ability to meet the demands of the Cuban market.
The delegation represents a variety of food sectors including dairy products, nuts, figs, lemons and other specialty fruits.
The companies and organisations involved are the California Farm Bureau Federation, the Centers for International Trade Development, Constellation Brands, Hilmar Cheese, Irrigation West, Limoneira, Mariani Nut Company, The Nunes Company, Pandol Brothers, Sierra Orchards and Valley Fig Growers.
The group arrived in Cuba for four days of talks yesterday, after it received a license for its mission last December.
The delegation will depart on Thursday January 24, hoping to have laid the foundations for future trips, where California companies interested in selling agricultural products to Cuba can participate.
Meanwhile, Washington continues to enforce a 45-year-old embargo on exports from Cuba.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture protects and promotes California's agricultural industry, which is currently worth $31.8bn.