Cuba says imports from US off sharply in 2010

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By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ, Associated Press

HAVANA (AP) — Cuban imports from the United States fell sharply in 2010 while the country increasingly turned to trade with ally Venezuela, according to newly released government statistics.

The government also announced that agricultural food prices rose 20 percent last year in part due to shorter supply, even as authorities try to stimulate productivity with agrarian and economic reforms.

Cuba's National Statistics Office said the island imported $410 million worth of goods from the U.S. in 2010, mostly food products. That was down from $645 million the previous year and about $1 billion in 2008.

The nearly 50-year-old U.S. trade embargo outlaws most U.S. commerce with Cuba, but it allows some things like agricultural goods and medicine to be sold to the island.

Cuba has said in the past that it would be buying less from the United States, saying the embargo's requirement that the transactions be done in cash was too restrictive. Increasingly it has turned to sources like China, Vietnam and Brazil in search of better terms.

The 2010 numbers on external trade released this week had not been previously announced, and 2011 figures are not available.

The document said trade with Venezuela, which has become Cuba's main commercial partner under President Hugo Chavez, topped $6 billion in 2010, nearly double the $3.4 billion registered the year before.

Venezuela provides about 100,000 barrels of oil a day to Cuba on beneficial terms and receives doctors and technical advisers from Cuba.

China was Cuba's second-largest partner in 2010 with $1.9 billion in trade, according to the report, followed by Canada, Spain, Brazil and the Netherlands.

The United States ranked seventh.

Cuba said exports increased from $3.1 billion in 2009 to $4.6 billion in 2010.

So did imports, from $9.6 billion to $10.6 billion. Fuel and food topped the list of goods Cuba purchased.

The National Statistics Office also said in a different report that prices for goods in agricultural markets rose 19.8 percent last year, led by crops like citrus, coconut, mango and melon.

The Cuban government has acknowledged that productivity is a problem on the island, forcing it to resort to food imports it can ill-afford — a total of $1.5 billion in 2010, according to the Statistics Office.

As part of a package of economic reforms, President Raul Castro has made agricultural changes including handing over fallow state-run land to independent growers and co-ops, and extending credits for farm equipment and improvements and

He frequently stressed the need for homegrown products to substitute for imports.

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