Cuba is intensely manoeuvring to shorten the distances with leading Asian economies, in line with the strategy of diversifying commercial ties with the world. Meanwhile, from the Far East they are viewing with interest the largest of the Caribbean islands at a time when the government of Raúl Castro is dialoguing with the United States. Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang landed at Havana’s José Martí International Airport on September 24. The day before his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, departed from the same city.
Both heads of state signed cooperation agreements with the Cuban government, which described the two visits as historic. It has reasons to describe them thus: while Japan cancelled a considerable part of Havana’s heavy debt and promised a greater rapprochement, China signed important agreements to expand trade and investments in Cuba.
Including agreements, memorandums of understanding and other papers, during Li Keqiang’s visit the governments of Cuba and China signed 12 legal documents to establish ties in industrial and technological sectors linked to energy, biotechnology and printing, in addition to organising banking-financial ties.
Through credit agreements, Beijing will back the Cuban program to promote power generation using renewable sources: it will participate in the construction of bioelectric stations attached to the sugar industry – the Ciro Redondo and Héctor Rodríguez sugar factories, in the centre of the country -, in the installation of a wind power park and it officialised the supply of raw material to Cuba for the production of solar panels.
China also opened a concessional credit line for carrying out a project for the modernisation of the Cuban photogravure industry for the printing of newspapers, while the government of the Chinese city of Chengdu and the BioCubaFarma business group signed a framework agreement to direct a project linked to cerebral mapping.
Medicine and biotechnology is one of the privileged sectors for joint ventures. The two governments agreed to establish a joint venture in the Mariel Special Development Zone for the production of biosensors, glucometers and other diagnosis devices. Other projects will join in to transfer to Cuba the technology for an advanced medicine, the recombinant streptokinase, and create a joint unit between the Molecular Immunology Centre and the Chinese company Dongsan Biotech, for research, development and production on a pilot scale of monoclonal antibodies and recombinant proteins to export them to Latin America.
Both parties cited bioengineering, neurotechnology, bioinformatics and proteomics, as well as high-performance computation and the production and marketing of a biotechnological product against cancer, among the promising fields. “The signing of the current agreements means that we are at a higher level in relations,” the president of the National Development and Reforms Commission of China, Xu Shaoshi, said in Havana.
The most recent results are giving continuity to bilateral advances in fields like the reconstruction of the port of Santiago de Cuba, tourism, oil and the construction of industrial infrastructure, among others.
Beijing took an important step to activate cooperation, trade and investments lines with Cuba when it cancelled Cuba’s overdue debts, in addition to signing a framework agreement to promote safe banking ties between both countries for mid- and long-term coverage and a memorandum of understanding for the financial collaboration between the People’s Bank of China and the Central Bank of Cuba.
With a growing commercial exchange, which in 2015 stood at around 1.6 billion dollars, according to data from the Asian side, China is becoming consolidated as Cuba’s second trade partner. It is preceded by Venezuela, as products as well as services are taken into account. But sources from the Caribbean nation specify that in 2015 Beijing ranked as the first trade partner in terms of goods for Cuba, with more than two billion dollars and a 77 per cent growth.
Li Keqiang coincided with Shinzo Abe when he mentioned the reform of the economic model being boosted by the government of Raúl Castro as a factor that will speed up the rapprochements of their respective countries and making investments in Cuba.
Though there are still not many associations with Cuban companies, the companies of the two Asian powers are intensely exploring the country’s market. The two governments also advanced that they are sending increasingly bigger business delegations than previous ones to the next edition of the Havana International Trade Fair in November. (2016)
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