AN 11-PERSON USA Rice Federation delegation was scheduled to travel to Cuba the week of April 12. The visit, led by USA Rice Chairman Gary Sebree and President/CEO Stuart Proctor, was to be aimed at promoting sales of U.S. rice.

The mission is in direct response to a personal invitation from Pedro Alvarez, chairman and CEO of ALIMPORT, the Cuban food import agency. The delegation will attend an event hosted by ALIMPORT billed as the “First Round of Negotiations with American Companies,” which will be covered by Cuban, U.S. and international press.

In addition, USA Rice will have a one-on-one meeting with ALIMPORT officials, host a dinner in honor of ALIMPORT, sponsor a trade luncheon featuring U.S. rice and travel to rice producing areas hosted by Cuban producers and millers. They will also meet with the Cuban Culinary Association, foodservice distributors, and retail operators to gain a better understanding of Cuba's rice demand needs over the short to medium term.

“We are looking forward to meeting with the top import decision makers in Cuba as well as key people in the producing, milling, foodservice and retail sectors on the Island. We will be building on close relationships we have in Cuba so that we are well positioned to take advantage of what has become a growing market for U.S. rice,” said Sebree, a rice producer from Stuttgart, Ark.

Other members of the delegation include Linda Zaunbrecher, a rice producer from Gueydan, La.; Paul T. Combs, a rice grower from Kennett, Mo.; Terry Harris, chairman of the Federation's Western Hemisphere Promotion Subcommittee; Marvin Baden, USA Rice board of directors member; Antonio Benavides and Javier Ferrer of Riviana Foods; Ramiro Velasquez of the Rice Company; and Marvin Lehrer, USA Rice's director of Latin America Promotions.

While Bush administration officials have tried to discourage trade initiatives with Cuba because of Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro's human rights record, U.S. rice industry leaders believe Cuba could eventually buy 500,000 to 600,000 metric tons of U.S. rice annually.