Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin says that an estimated 900 jobs would be created in Georgia and $29 million of the state’s agricultural and forest products would be sold annually to Cuba, if the United States Congress would lift the ban on trade against the communist country.

Mr. Irvin, who has been promoting Georgia’s entry into Cuban agriculture markets for the past several years, told GlobalFax that he anticipates more than $1 billion in U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba within five years, pending congressional approval.

Following his return from an agricultural sales conference in Cancun, Mexico, Jan. 30-Feb. 2, the commissioner urged Georgia’s state Legislature this session to present resolutions to Congress to normalize trade relations.

          “Trade (with Cuba) requires a change in federal policy, but states will be major players once we have access to those markets,” Mr. Irvin said. “I have asked the Georgia Legislature to help speed up the process by petitioning U.S. Congress. I expect everything will fall into place for normalizing trade with Cuba, but likely not until after the November elections.”

          Mr. Irvin said, however, that he thinks the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee and the Senate Committee on Agriculture should begin lobbying now for changes in federal law because it is in the best interest of Georgia farmers.

The commissioner and 20 Georgia agriculture and wood company representatives and other U.S. state government officials attended the Cancun conference, which was organized in part by Norcross-based World Development Federation and sponsored by the U.S. State Farm Bureau.

The meeting provided an opportunity for U.S. agriculture companies to network with potential Cuban buyers and discuss future sales.

          The long-term goal, Mr. Irvin said, is for all Georgia industries, including banking, medical, telecommunications and transportation services, to have close working relationships with Cuba. But agriculture is the state’s best entré into Cuban markets, he added, given a precedent set by a $40 million sale of U.S. agricultural and medical products to Cuba in December.

          Georgia agriculture offers the best deals for Cuban buyers, Mr. Irvin said, because of the state’s proximity to Cuba. Buyers could expect a savings of 15-30% if purchasing agricultural products from Georgia rather than Asia or Europe, he added.

          Georgia conference attendees, whose names the commissioner did not disclose, were “elated by the success of their meetings” with future Cuban partners. He said Cuban officials indicated that U.S. company representatives attending the Cancun conference, as well as a subsequent visit to Havana, would be first in line to sell their products to Cuba when and if U.S. law allows.

          Organizers of the Cancun agricultural sales conference said Cuban attendees tentatively agreed to hold the second such meeting in Havana next February. This would be the first major U.S. business conference to be held in Cuba since the communist revolution there some 40 years ago.

          To learn more about the Cancun conference, visit Contact Mr. Irvin at (404) 656-3685.

          Georgia agriculture, logistics and transportation company representatives can learn about changes in the cargo industry since Sept. 11 during an “Ag Shipper Workshop” at the Westin Atlanta Airport hotel on Thursday, Feb. 21, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

          Topics at the workshop include shipping considerations surrounding Afghanistan, forecasting of carrier rates, new cargo liability standards, new truck driver rules and wood packing regulations for shipments to Europe.

          The workshop is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Agriculture Ocean Transportation Coalition and co-hosted by USA Poultry & Egg Export Council and Georgia Department of Agriculture.

Cost is $25 for AgOTC members and $35 for non-members. Register on-line at or call (202-467-8380).