Rice Board Head: Cuban Trade Could Be Big For Louisiana

LAFAYETTE, LA (AP) — Lifting the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba could mean the return of a major market for Louisiana rice, Louisiana Rice Promotion Board chairman Kevin Berken says.

         He said Cuba imports about 600,000 metric tons of rice a year, with Vietnam as its biggest supplier.

         "Prior to the embargo, Cuba was the largest importer of Louisiana rice," he told a conference Friday at the Petroleum Club. "So it is critically important for us to be able open trade with other countries, Cuba being the main focus. It has been a focus for the last 20 or 30 years."

         Berken was among four panelists, The Advertiser’s Jessica Goff reported. It happened to be a day after the government announced President Barack Obama's amendments to existing Cuban sanctions.

         Only Congress can fully end the 54-year embargo.

         "Eventually, the embargo will be lifted, and there isn't a thing in the world that Cuba doesn't need," said Gary LaGrange, president and CEO of the Port of New Orleans. Its location 700 miles from Louisiana's coast makes New Orleans an especially convenient port, he said.

         LaGrange said there's talk of a Cuban consulate being built in the U.S. and New Orleans may be vying against Tampa, FL, as a host city, he said.

         "Louisiana should be next in line," he said. "We need a consulate in New Orleans.

         Charles Larroque, executive director of Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, and Larry Sides, president of SIDES & Associates, also spoke.

         Sides said he has traveled to Cuba 24 times in the last 15 year on religious missions and for leisure.

         "I'm simply fascinated with the country," he said.

         The only way the U.S. will fully be able to establish a diplomatic relationship with the country, and that includes tourism, is for the U.S. to completely lift the embargo, he said.

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