Ttexas port, Cuba sign agreement

Ttexas port, Cuba sign agreement

An agreement between the Port of Corpus Christi and the Cuban government is likely to boost U.S. food exports to Havana through Corpus Christi while encouraging the Texas Gulf port to diversify into non-petroleum cargoes.

Under the July 10 pact, Cuban food purchasing agency Alimport promises to encourage its exporters to move their products through Corpus Christi. The deal calls for initial bulk shipments, followed by development of refrigerator and containerized shipping.

"It's the first strategic planning and specifically trade-oriented agreement that Cuba has initialed with any American port," said Corpus Christi Chairman Ruben Bonilla. "We will demonstrate that we'll be able to ship agricultural and food commodities to Cuba more cost-effectively and expeditiously than competing ports."

Corpus Christi, 150 miles north of the U.S.-Mexican border and 853 nautical miles from Havana, handled 81 million tons of cargo last year, most of it petroleum from Venezuela, Mexico and other oil-producing countries.

"As we seek to diversify, so does Cuba, and there's a lot of sentiment in Texas for the elimination of the embargo," Bonilla said. "Many commodities sought by Cuba are located in South Texas, including sorghum, rice, corn, nuts and cotton. We are able to deliver these products to the port docks at minimal expenses. We also don't have the onerous land or rail freight charges that other ports have."

Two shipping lines will likely pick up Alimport business: C&S Shipping, headquartered in Australia, and Houston-based United Americas Shipping Lines.

Howard Posner, a Tampa-based representative of Sea Trade Reefer Chartering, a partner of C&S Shipping, said his company is prepared to provide service to Cuba if space is available on an inducement basis.

"We have a service calling into Corpus Christi every three weeks from Australia. This ship continues onto Florida and up the East Coast. We have told port officials that we are prepared to offer the space that opens up in Corpus Christi to carry cargoes to Cuba, and that could be upwards of 1,000 tons."

Posner said such cargo could be anything from frozen chicken to beans and grains - as long as it can be packaged and palletized.