Artisanal charcoal to become 1st Cuban export to US

Artisanal charcoal will become the first legal Cuban export to the U.S. in recent history this month under a new deal announced Thursday between the Cuban government and the former lawyer for imprisoned U.S. government contractor Alan Gross.

Attorney Scott Gilbert, who has sought to build economic ties between the two countries since Gross' release, said a company that he founded will buy 80 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.

Gilbert's company will pay $420 a ton, which is significantly above the market price. The first delivery is scheduled for Jan. 18, two days before the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump.

Products of privately run or cooperative farms can be exported to the United States under measures introduced by President Barack Obama after the Dec. 17, 2014, declaration of detente with Cuba. The measures loosen a 55-year-old trade embargo on Cuba.

Gilbert said he was confident that the Trump administration would evaluate the deal's benefits for both countries and allow it to continue even though Trump has promised to reverse much of Obama's opening with Cuba unless it makes political concessions.