Georgia companies sold one-fourth of all the U.S. food and other agricultural products sold to Cuba during the first U.S. Food & Agribusiness Exhibition, Sept. 26-30, in Havana, according to Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin.

          Mr. Irvin, who led a delegation of 57 representatives of Georgia companies and organizations to the exhibition, told GlobalFax that exact figures for product sales were not yet calculated, but that Georgia companies sold “several million dollars” of the total $15-20 million in U.S. products sold.

          “Georgia is ahead of the game and closer to the Cuban market than other U.S. states,” Mr. Irvin said, adding that Cuban President Fidel Castro held a private reception for the Georgia delegation during its trip there.

          Among Georgia sales at the exhibition, he said, was a deal, still to be signed, of $2 million in treated lumber by a Valdosta-based company. The Louis Dreyfus Group, a France-based conglomerate that trades Georgia products, agreed to $1.5 million in sales of chicken and pork, the bulk of which will come from Georgia farms, Mr. Irvin added.

          He said he also hopes to give Georgia’s poultry industry a boost by selling chicken quarters, the dominant poultry product used by Cubans. Since Cuba lacks the freezer space to store the volume it wants to buy from Georgia companies, Mr. Irwin told Mr. Castro that it could be stored in Georgia ports’ cold storage warehouses and delivered as needed.

          He added that some 15-25 new golf courses in Cuba are expected to use Georgia-grown turf grass. During the trip, Mr. Irvin visited a research facility in Cuba where the Georgia Seed Development Division of the Georgia Department of Agriculture is growing grass for golf courses and for grazing fields for cows.

          He said he will continue to urge U.S. Congress to ease trade and travel restrictions to Cuba for U.S. companies and tourists because, over time, the country promises to be an important market for Georgia products.

          He added that Mr. Castro ensured him that Cuba has at least $100 million in escrow accounts in foreign banks to use for cash purchases of U.S. goods.

Most imported food is used in Cuba’s tourist industry, but some, including Georgia poultry, would be for use in the country’s ration system, Mr. Irvin said. Cuban citizens are given monthly rations of food free of charge or at minimal cost by the government.

          Mr. Irvin said that he is considering a follow-up visit to Cuba in February.

          Contact the Georgia Department of Agriculture at (404) 656-3600.