The Havana International Trade Fair (FIHAV 2016) again opened its doors with the aim of attracting foreign capital, faithful to a Cuban investment policy and legislation that continues awakening strong curiosity in world business circles. The recent evolution of relations between Cuba and the United States intensifies the interest in exploring the host country and the organisers are in a hurry to meet the demand for information and alternatives.
The 34th trade fair opened on October 31 with participation records and a new package of opportunities to invest in the Cuban economy. Exhibitors from 73 countries came, including three first-time nations, Ethiopia, Gabon and Tanzania, but the most important sign is the expansion of the presence of strong economies like France, Italy and Japan, the latter for the first time with a complete pavilion.
As was expected, Cuba’s principal trade partners also sent delegations: Venezuela, China, Russia and Spain, the most represented country. More than 570 foreign and 364 Cuban companies are participating in this edition of the Fair, which will conclude next Saturday at the ExpoCuba fairgrounds.
“This significant growth in the amount of represented companies and countries is a demonstration of the growing interest the Cuban market is generating worldwide,” said Cuban Foreign Trade and Investments Minister Rodrigo Malmierca when inaugurating the Fair.
Though Cuba has not revealed figures of recent ventures with foreign businesspeople, the authorities reiterate that an improvement is starting to be perceived, in line with a policy that is the backbone of its current economic strategy. Malmierca said that 2016 has been a period of intense rapprochement by potential investors. “Since we met last year, hundreds of businesspeople from all continents have visited Cuba with commercial and investment interests.”
Two years after the approval of the current Law on Foreign Investment, the director of that activity in the Foreign Trade and Investments Ministry (MINCEX), Deborah Rivas, affirmed to the press that “important businesses with foreign capital have been established in Cuba in and outside the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM).” She also highlighted that many of the businesspeople established here since previous years have decided to reinvest in the country.
New businesses in the energy, construction and food and agriculture sectors will start up at the close of this year, the general director of foreign investment of MINCEX announced to the economic weekly Opciones.
In addition to the signing of bilateral agreements between Cuban and foreign companies, exclusive presentations for companies from one or another country, FIHAV 2016 had a special moment with the presentation of the third updated version of the Cuban Portfolio of Business Opportunities.
This portfolio includes 395 projects, 69 more than in 2015, with tourism, renewable energy, biotechnology and health, and agribusiness among the most represented sectors. Out of the total, 24 are offered by the Mariel Special Development Zone.
According to Malmierca, the portfolio is superior from the qualitative point of view because it includes new sectors, proposes possible and studied investments and incorporates alternatives with the agricultural cooperatives.
A group of projects which are in the stage of negotiation were taken out of the new version, and “progress was made in the conception of offers with better feasibility studies and economic viability,” the minister said.
During the Fair the authorities have reiterated among their goals: acquiring foreign financing and advanced technologies, attracting management methods, obtaining more hard currency incomes, production links with the rest of the national economy and creating new sources of employment.
Another reiterated objective is the diversification of foreign markets to expand exports and exchange in general. “Under no circumstance do we want to depend on a single market,” Malmierca said at the opening of the Fair, a tacit reference to disasters caused by the single dependence in other moments of Cuba’s economic history.
The United States is appearing among the alternatives Cuba is exploring. Companies from the neighbouring country, which have started becoming habitués of this market, came to FIHAV 2016, but in the opinion of the Cuban minister the economic blockade prevents a real trade and exchange between both countries. He gave the example of Cuba’s impossibility of making any transaction in dollars, despite the measure announced last March by the Barack Obama government.
“Because of its extraterritorial character,” this obstacle “also affects other countries whose companies have been the object of fines and sanctions,” Malmierca said.
The Cuban government has set itself the goal of attracting every year between two and 2.5 billion dollars in foreign investments as support to attain an economic growth of more than five per cent. On the threshold of the close of a grey year – the gross domestic product grew 1% in the first semester -, this norm, and the subsequent mission of the Havana International Trade Fair, are becoming well-known and urgent. (2016)
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