Cuba keen to draw foreign investment

HAVANA, Nov. 5 (Xinhua) — Cuba’s government this week showed its enthusiasm in attracting foreign investment by showcasing ample projects at the 2016 International Trade Fair of Havana (Fihav 2016).

“Foreign investment is not a necessary evil”, and it is “an important element in the social and economic development of the country,” Cuban Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca said when presenting 395 projects to potential investors at the fair.

The projects are worth more than 9.5 billion U.S. dollars, and Cuban officials say they need between 2 and 2.5 billion dollars of foreign investment a year to sustain economic growth.

Despite improved ties with the United States, investment has not met expectations so far, Malmierca said.

Since the country’s new foreign investment law was passed in March 2014, to help spur investment, only 83 projects worth 1.3 billion dollars have been launched, 15 of them in Cuba’s Special Economic Zone (SEZ) of Mariel, a deep-water port and industrial complex 50 km west of Havana.

“We have seen gradual but steady growth,” said Wendy Miranda, the director of coordination and procedures at Mariel, adding 19 companies, including 10 foreign ones, have been approved to set up operations at SEZ.

Businesses key to Cuba’s economy have been given priority, including those in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors.

More than 60 Chinese companies, including leading home appliances giant Midea and automobile producer Geely, are present at the Fihav 2016 to boost trade with Cuba.

China is Cuba’s second-largest trading partner following Venezuela. Numerous Chinese companies are involved in multiple areas of this nation’s economy and development, particularly in technology, transportation, biotechnology, agricultural machinery, household appliances and textiles.

“The Belgian company BDC Tec will soon become the first to begin production in the zone, making temperature sensors and electric panels,” said Miranda.

Other companies are still in the planning stage or just beginning construction, such as the Cuba-Brazil joint venture Brascuba, which on Wednesday placed the cornerstone of a modern cigarette factory.

A proposal by U.S. company CleBer to build tractors in Cuba was rejected, she said, because it did not incorporate any advanced technology, which Cuba is eager to promote.

At the fair, Cuban officials also touted tourism projects in a bid to bolster the industry as warmer U.S.-Cuba ties boost travel to the island.

Officials are looking to develop potential tourism destinations,such as Guardavalaca in the eastern province of Holguin,and Cuba’s south-central coast.

Other sites slated for tourism development include Santa Lucia Beach in northern Camaguey and the capital of Havana.

“Havana was not a priority until a short time ago,” said Malmierca,”but the recent dynamic of tourism development has led us to attract foreign capital to invest in tourism in the city.”

Some 25 hotels and at least two new marinas, along with an equestrian center in Havana, are also among the projects.

More than 3.5 million international tourists traveled to Cuba last year, mainly from Canada, generating some 2.8 billion dollars in revenue.

by Raul Menchaca, sina English

November 6, 2016

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