UPDATE 1-Cuban cigar maker eyes 25-30 pct of U.S. market if embargo lifted

lunes 23 de febrero de 2015 16:40 GYT

(Adds details on possible sales, background on Habanos cigars, trade embargo)

By Daniel Trotta

HAVANA Feb 23 (Reuters) - Cuban cigar-maker Habanos S.A. expects to immediately gain 25 to 30 percent of the U.S. premium cigar market if the United States lifts its trade embargo and up to 70 percent of the market within a few years, the company said on Monday.

Habanos S.A., a 50-50 joint venture between the Cuban state and Imperial Tobacco Group PLC, generated sales of $439 million in 2014 without direct access to the U.S. market.

As the monopoly guarantor of Cuba's signature export, Habanos S.A. also promised to preserve the quality of its Cohibas, Montecristos and Romeo y Julietas should it need to ramp up production to meet any new U.S. demand, which it estimated at 70 to 90 million units per year right away if the United States were to strike down the embargo.

"Some might consider that figure a little conservative, but I can tell you that with that figure, 25 percent, we would be the market leaders," Jorge Luis Fernandez Maique, commercial vice-president, told reporters at the start of Cuba's annual cigar festival.

The prospect of the United States removing its 53-year-old ban on trade with Cuba improved after the United States and Cuba announced on Dec. 17 their intention to restore diplomatic relations.

U.S. President Barack Obama has already eliminated some trade and travel restrictions, allowing Americans to legally Cobring back up to $100 worth of Cuban tobacco and alcohol for personal use. Obama, a Democrat, needs the Republican-controlled Congress to lift the embargo completely.

Democratic lawmakers on recent trips to Cuba said overturning the embargo would be difficult, but it was possible to build a majority with free-market and farm-state Republicans who oppose it.   Continuación...