Cuban Exports

Does somebody else’s off-hand comment ever catch in your mind so that you just have to research it a little farther? That happens to me all the time, most recently with respect to this comment about Cuban exports from David Bernstein (hat tip: Glenn Reynolds):

And, for the unitiated, Cuba is not actually economically isolated from anywhere but the U.S., it just doesn’t sell much of anything that anyone wants to buy.

Really? Delving back into my elementary school geography lessons, I remembered that Cuba’s main exports were sugar, nickel, tobacco, fish, and citrus. After a little research I was rather surprised to learn that medical supplies have become an important Cuban export. Would I be out of line in wondering if that weren’t part of a deliberate program on the part of the Cuban government to get into some higher value exports? What about the rest?

Sugar is Cuba’s overwhelmingly most important export. Here’s a great resource for statistics related to sugar production. I learned here that Cuba is one of the highest-cost producers of cane sugar. On this page from the U. S. Department of Agriculture I learned that some of the keys to Brazil’s strength in the sugar market are the weakness of the real and relatively low costs of transportation to the U. S., a major market for Brazilian sugar. And Brazil is improving its position by investing in some new facilities:

Brazil is enhancing its export ability by improving transportation and loading facilities. In 1999, four new automated sugar terminals began operating in the southern port of Santos. This has reduced costs and speeded up the flow of exports to the world market.

Brazil and India are the heavyweight champions of sugar production.

Here are my tentative conclusions about Cuban exports:

  1. U. S. and EU sugar subsidies result in both the U. S. and the EU producing too much sugar (and importing less sugar), keeping prices low.
  2. The U. S. is Cuba’s natural trading partner. The trade embargo hurts Cuba’s sugar exports, eliminating what would otherwise be a great advantage in transportation.
  3. Cuba could probably stand some capital improvements to lower its production costs. Is it possible that foreign investors aren’t much interested in putting money into a Communist dictatorship? (or are discouraged)

The United States does consume quite a bit of sugar (as I can tell by looking around at my fellow citizens). So Cuba does produce things that people want. But given the situation in the world sugar market they can’t do it at a price that people want to pay.

7 comments… add one
  • Comment from Michael Reynolds on Cuban cigars in 3…2…1…

  • Ah hah hah hah. Okay, that was funny.

  • Only an idiot would write Cuban produces nothing anyone wants. Those of us free of American idiocy can enjoy all kinds of interesting Cuban products.

  • Fletcher Christian Link

    Sure, Lounsbury. And if more countries had followed the American lead, perhaps Cuba would be a free country now. But never mind – keep enjoying your cigars.

  • Fletcher:

    I suspect we’ve helped to keep Cuba a totalitarian state. Smothering them with dollars, burying them under our exported culture, depriving them of scapegoats, would have worked better.

    We didn’t consistently embargo the USSR. We didn’t consistently embargo the Warsaw Pact. And now if you’re under 20 years old you have no idea what either of those terms means. The last true communist dictatorships are those we slammed the door on. We’re a lot more effective at bribery and seduction than we are at doling out punishment.

  • Fletcher Christian Link


    Really? Embargoing a country is a form of economic warfare, and if consistently applied will probably work. The trouble is that it usually isn’t – someone will usually see the short-term profit in breaking the embargo, that someone often being French.

    Make no mistake, the USSR collapsed because of economic warfare. Ronald Reagan saw reports telling him that they were spending much more than the country could afford on defense (the figure I have seen is about 25%) and decided to go in for the kill – by announcing stupendously expensive programmes such as “Star Wars”. The USSR couldn’t keep up with this particular arms race without bankrupting themselves;and this is what caused the entire Warsaw Pact to collapse. The populace just got sick of guns before butter.

    By the way, I am perfectly aware of what the Warsaw Pact was; I’m 49 next week.

  • One of Cuba’s other big exports is Cigars, but because of the trade embargo their biggest market is closed from direct sales but there is always the internet and being able to order them from different countries as a go between. There’s always back doors. Same way many americans travel to Cube- through Canada.

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