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    imports put Cuban reforms at risk
    Published: July 28, 2011 at 11:46 AM

    HAVANA, July 28 (UPI) — High food imports are putting Cuban economic
    reforms at risk because of the drain they pose on foreign exchange

    The government sounded warnings about rising food commodities import
    bills after it emerged that while , the lead exporter, saw
    earnings rise from sales to Cuba, Havana's cash-strapped state
    trade sector wasn't too pleased about the situation.

    Cuban has been exhorting Cubans to become
    self-reliant and has laid off of tens of thousands of government
    employees to cut state spending and signal his readiness to accept a
    gradual shift toward a market-oriented .

    Cubans catapulted out of state employment were told to become
    self-employed and start anew as merchants and entrepreneurs.

    State curbs on buying and selling in the marketplace were eased and
    Cubans were told they could buy and sell real estate. The rule change
    that has sent the fledgling market into a subdued frenzy as
    would-be property tycoons begin to hone their skills in a fast-changing
    business environment.

    However, government statistics indicated the food import bill was a
    major worry. Cuba imports up to 60 percent of it consumes and, by
    the latest count, bought more than 400,000 tons of the commodity to meet
    basic needs, Juventud Rebelde newspaper reported.

    The import bill is set to rise as domestic demand for the staple grain
    this year is likely to exceed that level and may reach 600,000 tons to
    meet the basic needs of Cuba's population of 11.2 million.

    Despite numerous moves to relax state control on food distribution and
    supply, Cubans depend on to fulfill basic needs for rice and
    other consumables.

    Grain Research Institute Director Telce Gonzalez said self-sufficiency
    in food was crucial to Cuba's economic well-being.

    "The first challenge is to produce what we need," he said, adding that,
    although Cuban expanded areas under rice cultivation, it
    still had a long way to go to realize that goal.

    This year, the government will need to import almost double the quantity
    of rice it produces for domestic consumption, new estimates indicated.

    is Cuba's main supplier of rice. Neither side has disclosed the
    terms under which Cuba buys rice from Vietnam, a socialist nation in an
    advanced stage of transformation into a market economy.

    The prospect of the state trade sector having to pay more for imports
    sent the government into overdrive this month. There were calls to
    institutions to galvanize rice farmers to produce more and reduce
    dependence on imports.

    The campaign aims at raising awareness of about 50 varieties of the
    grain that can be grown in the island's different ecosystems for maximum
    rice yield.

    Cuba's suffered when it lost export markets as they ditched
    communism and switched to capitalist options, or cut imports with the
    collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

    The government frequently has set targets to boost rice production and
    reduce dependence on imports but has missed reaching any of the goals.

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