- Associated Press - Thursday, December 25, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Despite the ongoing trade embargo with Cuba, North Carolina exports millions worth of agricultural products to the Caribbean nation each year.

And that figure is expected to grow as the United States normalizes diplomatic relations.

While President Obama last week announced the United States would establish full diplomatic ties with Cuba, it is up to Congress whether the trade embargo is lifted.

Peter Thornton, the associate director for international marketing for the state Department of Agriculture, tells media outlets that North Carolina has been exporting agricultural products to Cuba for years.

U.S. Census Bureau figures show that this year, through the end of October, the state exported nearly $8.5 million in such products to Cuba, which is the state’s 29th-largest trading partner for agricultural products.

“In time, it is going to grow, and it is going to grow fast,” Thornton told The News and Observer. “But we’re probably talking a few years before we see dramatic increases.”

One of the problems with exporting to Cuba has been financing, he said.

“One, the Cuban government doesn’t have a whole lot of money. Two, you can’t provide financing to Cuba,” he added, meaning companies in the state can’t offer credit for the purchase of agricultural products.

Thornton tells The Star-News of Wilmington that Cuba could potentially become the larger Caribbean market for the state.

Most of the state’s exports to Cuba are bulk commodities like soybeans, soybean meal and corn, he said.

Currently, he said, the Port of Wilmington doesn’t have direct shipping service to Cuba or the Caribbean. He said shipping of bulk commodities is out of Norfolk, Virginia, or Charleston, South Carolina.

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