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The Special Relationship and the Challenge of Diversifying a Sugar Economy: Cuban Exports of Fruits and Vegetables to the United States, 1902-1962

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Document pages: 45 pages

Abstract: For almost sixty years of the 20th century Cuban exports to the United States enjoyed certain advantages not available to any other sovereign country: at least a 20 reduction in import duties on items subject to a US tariff and privileged access to the US market for its main export, cane sugar. Given this competitive advantage, as well as its comparative advantage of climate and geographic proximity, this paper considers the degree to which Cuba was able to diversify its agricultural exports. The 1902 Reciprocity Convention provided the incentive for the development of a number of non-traditional fruit and vegetable exports geared to the US market. In less than two decades, Cuba became almost the sole foreign supplier of pineapples and grapefruit. Moreover, after the 1934 Reciprocal Trade Agreement which granted Cuba even more favorable duty concessions during the US winter season, it became the dominant foreign supplier of vegetables such as cucumbers, okra and eggplant, and an important source of fresh tomatoes. Further, in the post-World War II period, in most years the value of Cuban exports of processed fruit to the US exceeded that of fresh fruit. Yet, Cuban exports of fresh and processed fruits and vegetables to the US rarely comprised 4 of total Cuban exports. The concentration of land, labor, capital and agricultural research on sugar cane, along with external factors -- such as increasing US domestic production of similar crops and competition from Mexico -- served as a powerful disincentive to the sustained growth of non-traditional agricultural exports.

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