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Georgia gov.: Free trade can cure US-Cuba ills

(AP:HAVANA) Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue says Cuban officials made it clear the island's purchasing power has been reduced by the global financial crisis, but his trip here helps ensure his state is well positioned for a post-embargo world.

Georgia ranks third so far this year among the 29 U.S. states exporting to Cuba, shipping nearly $16.3 million in goods, including poultry, soybeans, pork, sausage and margarine, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Perdue said top Cuban trade officials told him the island's usually weak economy has been battered even further by world economic woes, making it still harder to afford pricey foreign imports.

The Republican governor spoke of a day when the U.S. embargo against Cuba may no longer exist, but stopped short of urging Washington to lift its 48-year-old trade restrictions.

"If and when our government and the Cuban government decide on relaxed trade, we think Georgia will be poised to take advantage of that to meet the needs the Cuban people have," Perdue told reporters Tuesday, wrapping up his two-day visit to

The embargo, which took its current form in 1962, prohibits most travel to and trade with Cuba. But sales of American food and farm items to the island have been allowed since 2000, and the U.S. is the island's top source of agricultural products.

Perdue said he preferred not to publicly disclose his personal views on the embargo, but added: "I will say that there are better opportunities for better jobs and prosperity in the U.S. as a result of trade with Cuba."

He was the first state governor to come to Cuba since New Mexico Democrat Bill Richardson in August. Among Republican governors, the last visit was by Nebraska's Dave Heineman and Idaho's C.L. "Butch" Otter in 2007.

Perdue said that his trip to the island drew almost no criticism back home and that most in his state feel international trade is a key way to promote peace and understanding.

"I'm a business guy who happen(s) to be governor, and I'm going to be a business guy after I'm governor," said Perdue, who leaves office at the end of the year and was once an agricultural and transportation small business owner. "I think business cures a lot of ills."

The governor said he discussed his state's interest in sending chicken, wheat, grains, oil seeds and lumber to the island _ though he did not emerge with any new export agreements Tuesday. Georgia is America's leading exporter of chicken.

"Our goal was not to sign contacts," he said. "It was, again, to build the relationships of business, of mutual trust and respect."

Perdue and his 43-member delegation also discussed possible future tourism possibilities.

"Anecdotally, I talked to a lot of Georgians who, I think, would love to come to this beautiful island and explore," he said.

Associated Press Writer


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