Mexican Firm Wins Approval to Operate in Cuba’s Free Trade Zone

Local newspapers predict Mariel Port could become more important than the port in Havana.

Mexican meat processing company Richmeat has become the first foreign company to gain official approval to set up a manufacturing unit in Cuba’s free trade zone near the Mariel Port.

According to the Mexican Foreign Relations Secretariat, Richmeat de Mexico will process and pack meat products in Mariel, which is just 28 miles from the capital Havana. The Secretariat did not disclose how much money the Mexican company will invest in the communist island.

The largest infrastructure project Cuba has ever undertaken, Mariel free trade zone is the symbol of the country’s growing appetite for foreign investment.

Adjacent to the zone is the Mariel Seaport, which hopes to handle as many as one million containers per year. A Singaporean firm is currently managing the port, while the Brazilian government has funded much of its construction.

The Cuban government is trying to link the port with highways and railroads, with local papers predicting that Mariel could one day replace Havana as the country’s most important port.

“This achievement is a result of the relaunching of relations between Mexico and Cuba, one of whose principal goals has been to expand the presence of Mexican businesses on the island,” the Secretariat said.

The easing of the U.S. embargo has suddenly brought Cuba into the spotlight of global media. A large number of Americans are now traveling to the island to study the business climate and assess business opportunities.

Mexico, whose universities have recently begun sharing training programs with Cuba, says it wants to play a pivotal role in ending Cuba’s diplomatic and financial isolation.

The free trade zone offers tax breaks and other financial incentives to foreign firms, although the Cuban government is yet to unveil a proper guideline detailing how international firms can benefit from the investment.

By Narayan Ammachchi, Nearshore Americas

March 3, 2015

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