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HIDES AND SKINS
Until 1941 hides and skins constituted Cuba's most important exports of livestock products and amounted to from 1 to 2 million dollars annually. These consisted almost entirely of wet-salted hides, of which from two-thirds to four-fifths were shipped to Germany until the war started. Substantial quantities of cured hides are imported, principally from the United States.
Almost all cattle hides produced in Cuba are of the wet-salted variety, the supply of dry-cured hides being confined to an occasional few hides obtained as a result of slaughter other than in duly established slaughterhouses. Individual cattle owners also dry-cure some hides for their own use, but these do not enter commercial channels. Commercial cattle hides are of two types, the Havana Packer, produced by the large packers, and Slaughterhouse, which includes all others. Only Havana Packer hides enter the export market. They weigh from 65 to 70 pounds, are uniform and free from disfigurations, and come from cattle weighing 900 to 1,100 pounds. These hides are all short shanks but are not trimmed for ears and snouts. Incidence of ticks is limited in this grade. The production of export hides centers around Habana, where it averages 250,000 to 300,000 hides a year. Approximately an equal number are produced outside of Habana, but only about 10 percent of these are exportable. Less than half of the total production is exported.
Table 56 shows the destination of exports of wet-salted hides. This classification includes about 99 percent of the total exports. Prior to 1940 an average of only about 10 percent was shipped to the United States, but in 1940 this share rose to 90 percent, the United States replacing Germany.
TABLE 56.-Hides and skins (wet-salted) exported from Cuba, 1926–40
Com. Exterior, Cuba Min. de Hacienda, Dir. Gen. de Estadís.; 1940 from consular reports.
The average price of export hides during recent years has varied from 8.7 to 13.9 cents a pound. With the loss of much of the European market and the accumulation of excessive stocks in 1940, prices of Havana Packer dropped to as low as 4 cents in September 1940, but by the middle of 1941 prices had recovered to 8.6 cents. Commercial production of calfskins is relatively small at about 12,000 skins a year. That of sheepskins, lambskins, and goatskins is esti
mated at about 45,000 a year. Practically all such skins are consumed domestically, and considerable additional quantities of these leathers are imported from the United States for use in Cuba's expanding shoe industry (table 57).
TABLE 57.-Tanned and cured skins imported into Cuba, 1926-40
Foreign trade plays an exceptionally important role in Cuba's economic life. The country's production centers around sugar, tobacco, and a few other crops grown primarily for export, whereas industries supplying domestic consumption are relatively unimportant. The great importance of foreign trade is shown by its high value. The average annual value of all exports during the 5 years 1936-40 was equivalent to $36 per capita, whereas the total export trade of the United States amounted to only about $24 per capita. In the United States the export trade is relatively unimportant compared with domestic consumption, but in Cuba it is of major importance. Cuba's dependence upon foreign trade dates back to days when the island was a Spanish colony. It was to Spain's immediate interest to develop the island only as a source of raw material for sale to Spain or through Spanish merchants. At the same time, the island was kept heavily dependent on imports from Spain, and local industries were not encouraged. Obstacles were placed against economic development and against trade with other countries. Cuba therefore became a great consuming market for imported goods.
When Cuba attained its independence at the turn of the century, the first objective was to open its markets to world trade. Imports and exports each increased in value from about 65 million dollars annually in 1902 to approximately 150 million dollars each in 1912-14. (See fig. 41.) Then the first World War with its greatly increased demand for Cuban sugar created a boom, which continued for several years after the war, when exports reached a peak of nearly 800 million dollars, in large measure because of the high prices for sugar, averaging 11 cents a pound in 1920. Subsequently, countries all over the world increased their domestic production of sugar and imposed higher tariffs and other trade barriers against imported sugar. Nevertheless, the post-war period of prosperity permitted Cuba to maintain a relatively high level of exports until about 1929, after which the depression decline was very rapid. By 1932-33 exports had dropped
in value to only 80 million dollars and imports to less than 50 million. Recovery during recent years has been slow and cut short by the loss of European markets as a result of the present war, but in 1941 exports rose sharply to 212 million dollars.
The balance of foreign trade is normally in Cuba's favor. The value of exports has exceeded the value of imports roughly by 40 million dollars annually during the past 10 years. In other words, imports usually amount to only 65 to 80 percent of the value of exports. This disparity in the value of physical trade is due primarily
FIGURE 41.-Cuban foreign trade, total and with the United States, 1902-41.
to the fact that Cuba is a debtor country and pays interest and amortization on a large part of the investment in Cuban sugar mills and railways. In addition Cuba's foreign trade is handled in foreign vessels, necessitating the payment of large freight and insurance charges to foreign countries.
Cuba's exports are almost entirely agricultural products (table 58), whereas imports are only about one-fourth agricultural, being primarily manufactured products.
TABLE 58.-Exports of principal agricultural products from Cuba in years specified
2 Value of sugar products includes rum; quantity is shown in millions of gallons excluding rum.
3 Weights are leaf used in the manufacture of exported tobacco products according to data from the Tobacco Institute. 4 Other exported agricultural items are valued at nearly an additional million dollars.
Com. Exterior, Cuba Min. de Hacienda, Dir. Gen. de Estadís.
Sugar and tobacco and products made from them accounted for all but 12 percent of Cuba's exports during the period 1936-40 (table 59). Fresh fruits-including bananas, grapefruit, pineapples, and avocados--henequen and cordage, and winter vegetables-such as tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and cucumbers made up another 4 percent of the total. Livestock products accounted for only 1.6 percent of the total, although their value increased considerably in 1940 and 1941. Nonagricultural exports accounted for less than 6 percent of the total. These consisted principally of minerals, forest products, and sponges. TABLE 59.-Cuban exports, by product groups, average 1936-40
Cuba's imports are predominantly manufactured products (table 60), but nevertheless, agricultural products during the 1936-40 period accounted for more than one-fourth of the total (table 61). Of these, rice, flour, and lard were by far the most important, accounting for about 60 percent of all agricultural imports.