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By Marc Frank
HAVANA, June 9 (Reuters) - Cuba has suspended imports of U.S. chicken citing a bird flu epidemic ravaging the U.S. poultry industry, U.S. traders told Reuters on Tuesday.
A letter e-mailed to the traders from Alimport, the Communist-run country's food importer, said Cuba would not accept bids for delivery of chicken in August and September, "taking into account the animal health situation."
Cuba is allowed to purchase U.S. agricultural goods for cash under a 2000 exception to the trade embargo.
U.S. chicken exports to Cuba totaled $147.5 million in 2014, according to the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which monitors the trade.
"The incidence of the influenza could continue to worsen and put at risk the contracted supplies, which would impact our clients," the letter from Roberto Zapata, Alimport's commercial director, said.
"We think it prudent for both parties to continue observing the evolution of the same so as not to make decisions that compromise immediate supplies," Zapata said in the letter.
Alimport did not immediately respond to requests from Reuters to confirm the ban.
The United States is dealing with its worst outbreak of bird flu on record. More than 44 million chickens, turkeys and other birds have been culled since last December.
This is not the same avian influenza virus that has caused human infections in Africa, Asia and Europe.
Dozens of countries have imposed total or partial bans on U.S. poultry and egg imports since the outbreak of what is called highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).
Each of the top 10 importers has introduced restrictions. Total bans have been imposed by China, South Korea and Angola, whose markets were valued at nearly $700 million last year. (Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Alden Bentley)