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December 19, 2006   Email to Friend 

Darryal Ray
(334) 613-4187
December 19, 2006

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Agriculture & Industries Commissioner Ron Sparks returned to Alabama Sunday after a four-day trip to Cuba to follow up on commitments made to companies during the Havana Trade EXPO held in November.

"Over the last several months, there have been many rumors as to the future of Cuba because of President Castro's health issues," said Sparks. "We felt that it was important for us to make this trip because we want to ensure that no matter what happens within Cuba, that Alabama will be able to continue our trade relationship."

This most recent trip and the one for the EXPO have yielded more than $30 million in commitments of purchases from Alabama companies or for companies representing Alabama companies.

In 2005, Cuba purchased about $140 million in products from Alabama creating a $400 million economic impact for the state. In 2006, Cuba bought almost one-third of its entire U.S. purchases from Alabama.

"Alabama's exports to Cuba have become an impressive addition to our state's economy," added Sparks. "I believe that other states which have not been sending products and company representatives to Havana will soon realize they may be missing out on a great opportunity. While Alabama's delegation was in Havana, 10 U.S. Congressmen arrived for meetings with government officials. And, I was told that a delegation from Mississippi was also expected to visit during the week.

"Whether there is a change within the Cuban government or not, I want to be sure that Alabama maintains its position as a trade leader with Cuba and that we are able to continue to promote Alabama products." While in Havana, Sparks and his staff prepared a traditional southern meal using Alabama products. Cuban officials were served fried catfish from Southern Pride Catfish, cornbread, butterbeans, green bean casserole, coleslaw, pecan pie with ice cream, and Red Diamond sweet tea.

Alimport Chairman and CEO Pedro Alvarez, who determines which products Cuba purchases from North American countries, has committed to purchase such Alabama products as peanut butter, paste, and peanuts from Mazur & Hockman, peanut butter blended with Alaga syrup from Whitfield Foods, soybean oil processed in Decatur, Alabama poultry through various traders, utility poles from five Alabama manufacturers, grains through F.C. Stone, and Alabama lumber and newsprint.

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