Sparks: State to benefit from trade deal

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Selma Times-Journal

Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Ron Sparks passed through Selma Thursday to tour American Apparel, the Selma company recently awarded a $98 million contract for Marine Corps desert camouflage blouse and trouser sets.

He took the opportunity to herald an announcement of $23 million in confirmed trade deals between Alabama businesses and Cuba’s import company, Alimport.

Alabama contracts included poultry, poultry products, and wooden utility poles.

Positively impacted companies in Alabama include Goldkist, PECO Foods, Sylvest Farms, Pilgrims Pride, Wayne Farms and Northern Gulf Trading Group.

Congress gave approval for agriculture and medical supplies from the United States to be exported to Cuba in 2001, he said.

The United States is the &8220;only country in the world to shut Cuba out,&8221; Sparks said.

His negotiations have also granted him five meetings with Fidel Castro, who he cites as being &8220;courteous, articulate, kind, and knowledgeable about Alabama’s river system and Port of Mobile. He was interested in protein – we’re working on a powdered milk deal – and chicken. Dark meat.&8221;

Sparks said Cuba’s a unique place.

Less than two days of shipping time is required from the Port of Mobile for goods to reach Cuba. Since last year, poultry exports from Alabama have risen 328 percent, Sparks said. An estimated 40 percent of all poultry sold to Cuba is sourced from Alabama. Utility poles imported by Cuba are nearly exclusively sourced from Alabama.

John Key, who works with trade within the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, said increasing restrictions to trade with Cuba were imposed by the federal government this year.

Key said India will be Alabama’s next push for export trade.

Fact box:

See story on American Apparel in Sunday’s Business Section