Mariel’s hour is approaching

A Cuban government resolution frees imports for foreign industrial investment from paying customs duty.

Archivo IPS Cuba

A new customs regimen legislated by the government frees the imports that expand Cuban export productions from paying customs taxes.

A recent legal Cuban government regulation left the door open to new businesses in the so-called special development zones, a probable platform for the re-launching of foreign investments in the largest of the Antillean islands. The monumental work of the Mariel megaport could be one of the first to be blessed.

The Finance and Prices Ministry (MFP) enacted a few days ago a customs regimen that eliminates or makes flexible the payment of duties for those products imported for re-export. Thus the legal scenario was adapted for those companies interested in establishing factories in Cuba without having to pay import or export taxes, internationally known as maquiladoras.

The new regulation authorises the “suspension of import duties and taxes” for “merchandise to be exported in a certain period of time, after undergoing a total or partial process of transformation, production or repair, which would lead to an increase in its added value on national territory.”

It’s not difficult to start seeing in the letter of Resolution 85 of 2013 of the MFP ( that the government is creating the conditions to achieve a many-times frustrated purpose in the foreign investment policy: that the new productions fill the Cuban export portfolio as a means to increase the country’s hard currency income.

In the recent past, foreign companies frequently promised the Cuban counterpart that they had the key to enter foreign markets, but they landed with their sights set on domestic consumption and the demand of the island’s tourist industry.

This resolution is one more step toward an old ambition of the Cuban economic policy: expanding exports and also reducing imports.

Along that line, the companies that have paid customs duties for merchandise will be able to benefit with the drawback if the re-export of the product is confirmed after going through a process of transformation, production or repair on national territory. The refunding of the customs duties will be carried out “when the export benefits the national economy,” says the resolution. Or “when the advantages granted to imported merchandise do not affect the use in national merchandise export products.”

The first Special Development Zone is in Mariel, which would benefit with the legal umbrella of that customs regimen. At a cost of 900 million dollars – some 640 million financed by a Brazilian government credit -, that megainvestment is being carried out by an international economic association between the COI firm, a subsidiary of the Brazilian Odebrecht, and the Cuban Quality construction enterprise.

Located some 50 kilometres to the west of Havana, that port has the conditions – expanded through dredging and other works – to receive large-size ships that can no longer enter the bay of Havana. The capital’s port, which is also undergoing investment works, will prioritise the reception of cruise ships and activities closer to Old Havana’s tourism.

Cubans and Brazilians have set out to make Mariel a particularly attractive scenario for foreign investments. In addition to an ideal environment for the intense traffic of merchandise – construction of piers, a modern container terminal, railroad and other infrastructure works -, that point of the Cuban geography will have an extensive area of 465 square metres, in which the construction workers of Quality-COI are toiling to create favourable conditions for the installation of a great amount of hi-tech industries: the Special Development Zone.

“This is the most complex work that has been started in Cuba,” President Raúl Castro commented when he visited the site last Feb. with former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

During a previous visit to Mariel, Brazilian Development, Industry and Foreign Trade Minister Fernando Pimentel offered the Cubans consultancy services to build the regulatory framework of the Mariel Special Development Zone. “We have all the interest in collaborating in the definition of that model to attract the largest amount possible of Brazilian companies,” Pimentel said.

The special customs regimen came out in the Gaceta Oficial de la República de Cuba precisely in April, the date previewed for the start of Mariel’s first port operations.

“I dream that this port can contribute to Cuba’s development, especially in the concretion of an important industrial zone,” Lula said on that occasion.

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