Artisanal charcoal will become the first legal Cuban export to the US in decades under a deal announced Thursday between Cuba's government and the former lawyer for imprisoned US government contractor Alan Gross. Attorney Scott Gilbert said a company that he founded will buy 40 tons of charcoal made from the invasive woody plant marabu. The charcoal is produced by hundreds of worker-owned cooperatives across Cuba and has become an increasingly profitable export, valued for its clean-burning properties and often used in pizza and bread ovens, the AP reports. Gilbert's company will pay $420 a ton, which is significantly above the wholesale market price of about $360. The first delivery is scheduled for Jan. 18.
Products of privately run or cooperative farms in Cuba can be exported to the US under measures introduced by President Obama loosened a 55-year-old trade embargo. The charcoal is sold by cooperatives to a local packager, which sells it on to state-run export firm CubaExport. Each middleman takes a 1% or 2% commission, CubaExport's general director said. CubaExport said the charcoal would be the first legal export to the US in more than five decades, and it hoped to expand the deal to include honey and coffee. The charcoal will be sold to restaurants and online to consumers in 33-pound bags under the brand name Fogo, Gilbert said. Cuba sells about 40,000 to 80,000 tons of marabu charcoal annually to buyers in Italy, Germany, and elsewhere. (Read more Cuba stories.)