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HAVANA - A U.S.-Cuba trade group is trying to get the Bush administration to reverse its blocking of a food fair featuring U.S. companies planned for January in Havana, Reuters reports.
The group's president charged on Friday the prohibition -- which comes amid particularly sour U.S.-Cuba relations -- would hurt U.S. business more than the Communist island.
"Businesses that trade and want to trade with Cuba, state agriculture departments and politicians are pressing the (U.S.) State Department and Treasury Department," John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, told Reuters in an e-mail interview.
The New York-based group, which calls itself the largest nonpartisan U.S. business organization focused on Cuba, is spearheading a drive to get the food fair reinstated. In a letter to U.S. Congress members this week, it urged them to pressure the Bush administration to reverse its decision.
The U.S. Treasury Department, which enforces the four-decade-old trade embargo on Cuba, this month denied Connecticut PWN Exhibition International the licenses needed to organize the fair. The company organized the first U.S. agriculture trade show in Cuba last September, and the first health-products show in 2000.
U.S. relations with Cuba went on a downturn earlier this year after President Fidel Castro's government imprisoned 75 dissidents for long terms in April, charging they were working for the United States to subvert the government.
State Department officials made clear this week the show was blocked due to the current political climate.
Peter Nathan, president of PWN Exhibition International, told Reuters in an e-mail interview the decision could cost U.S. companies $100 million in sales.
"Why would anyone except a naive government expect a change in Cuba's behavior by denying the opportunity to conduct a trade exhibition?" he said.
Cuba has yet to comment on the Bush administration's action, which was welcomed by Cuban-American organizations opposed to trading with Castro's government.
September's food fair included 823 representatives from 291 U.S. companies and state organizations, according to Kavulich's group.
Cuba has purchased $200 million in grains, poultry, cereals and other agricultural products under a loosening of the trade embargo in 2000 that allowed such sales for cash.