Traffic to increase at BR port after U.S. lifts embargo on Cuba

Traffic to increase at BR port after U.S. lifts embargo on Cuba
Published: Jan. 28, 2015 at 9:08 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 29, 2015 at 12:09 AM CST
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Louisiana hopes to cash in on the United States lifting a decades old embargo on Cuba by offering to them what the Bayou State prides itself on --- it's crops.

Greater Port of Baton Rouge's Karen St. Cyr says the economic impact will be tremendous to all of Louisiana's ports, especially Baton Rouge.

She said boat, train and road traffic will all be increasing thanks to open trades now an option between the United States and Cuba. With Louisiana so close to Cuba, Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Mike Strain said its a win, win for Louisiana.

"Currently, in the food products that are exported to Cuban, 40-50% of that comes from Louisiana, and we are perfectly poised to increase that market share as that market becomes more available," said Strain.

Strain said Louisiana has advantages other states do not such as the Mississippi River, other ports like in Lake Charles and New Orleans, availability of products such as rice, grain, corn and more and a long-standing relationship with Cuba.

Strain said Cuba imports 600,000 metric tons of rice a year.

"If you look at what 600,000 metric tons could mean, that could mean a third of our rice crop. We are an export state," said Strain. "The Cubans will be importing 500,000 metric tons of wheat. That's twice the size of our entire crop that we have in Louisiana."

Currently, anywhere between 900 and 1,200 ships come through the Port of Baton Rouge. With this partnership, that means at least 200 more a year, and with every ship, that means at least $1 million of economic impact to the area.

Strain said barges have to rent tugboats and pilots, pay docking fees, buy groceries and supplies while they're docked in Baton Rouge.

St. Cyr said river traffic is the most convenient method of exporting. Plus, by next year, West Baton Rouge will have expanded its train system and built a storage area for trains to stay over.

"The more we can export, the more we can move products. It creates jobs for our farmers," said St. Cyr.

Strain said they have already started exporting to Cuba, but in the coming years, he said there will be up to a 30% increase in exports.

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