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THURSDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2006
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Decatur's Bunge
to sell in Cuba

Soybean oil approved for import during state trade visit to island

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — A Decatur company's processed soybean oil is among products approved for sale to Cubans during a four-day state agriculture department trip to the island nation last week.

Bunge Corp., which has a soybean processing and milling plant in Decatur, is among companies that will sell products to Cuba in 2007.

Decatur plant officials referred questions to the company's corporate office in St. Louis, which did not respond to interview requests.

Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, who heads the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, said the trip was a follow-up visit to firm up commitments made to Alabama companies during the Havana Trade EXPO in November.

Sparks said questions about Cuban President Fidel Castro's health prompted the return trip.

"When he did not appear at his birthday celebration, I was concerned," Sparks said. "I wanted to make sure that his brother, Raoul, upports trade with Alabama."

"Alabama's exports to Cuba have become an impressive addition to our state's economy," Sparks said.

He said he thinks states that do not send products and company representatives to Cuba "will soon realize they may be missing out on a great opportunity."

Sparks said that whether there is a change within the Cuban government or not, it is important for Alabama to maintain its position as a trade leader with Cuba.

In 2006, one-third of Cuba's purchases from the U.S. came from Alabama. The trip last week and the one in November brought in $30 million in commitments to purchase Alabama products.

Sparks said that in 2005 Cuba bought $140 million worth of Alabama products, resulting in a $400 million economic impact in the state.

During last week's trip, agriculture department staff, including Sparks, gave a cooking lesson and cooked a Southern meal for Pedro Alvarez, chairman and chief executive officer of Alimport. Sparks said Alvarez determines which products Cuba buys from North America.

In addition to the Decatur products, Sparks said, Alvarez agreed to purchase Alabama products including peanuts and peanut products from Mazur & Hockman, grains through F.C. Stone, peanut butter blended with Alaga syrup from Whitfield Foods, poultry, utility poles, lumber and newsprint.

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