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US-Cuba Trade Growing Despite Embargo

Since 2003, one country has been the main supplier of food to Fidel Castro's Cuba - the United States. And despite the long-standing U.S. embargo against the communist country, some in the United States are pressing to expand economic ties to the energy sector. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.

Despite a 45-year-old economic embargo, sales of U.S. food products to Cuba are thriving. In Havana, store shelves are regularly stocked with popular U.S. brands - the result of a law passed by Congress in 2000, which authorized cash only purchases on U.S. food and agricultural items.

Since then, dozens of American delegations have paid visits to Cuba to explore trade with the communist country.

Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman brought along a farm delegation on his third trip to Havana. "That's why I've been here three times now, probably more than any governor of all 50 governors, I can assure you that," said Heineman. "This has been a very significant and very meaningful relationship for our state. And again, it's been a terrific opportunity for us to look at an expanded relationship. That's why we're down here again."

Although a 1996 law tightened the long-standing embargo against Cuba, as long as Cuban leader Fidel Castro is in charge, some believe interest in Cuba's oil exploration efforts could change the political tide.

Kirby Jones, the founder of the U.S.-Cuba Trade Association, says the island has big plans to expand crude oil exploration about 150 kilometers from the Florida coast. "Cuba is very aggressively pursuing the exploration of oil. There's a bill now in the United States Senate to exempt US energy companies from the embargo, the way US food companies are."

The bill, introduced earlier this month, would open Cuban waters to US oil and natural gas companies. If the law passes, Jones says, "the embargo goes out the window.... This isn't mayonnaise we're talking about, this is hundreds of millions of dollars."

China, Spain and India have already launched joint ventures to explore Cuba's offshore fields, which the US Geological Survey estimates could contain between 5-10 billion barrels of crude oil.