Cuba falling short of foreign investment goals
Associated Press November 1, 2016
HAVANA (AP) — Cuba is failing to meet its self-imposed foreign
investment targets two years after detente with the United States set
off the greatest surge of business interest in the country since its
1959 socialist revolution, officials said Tuesday.
Foreign Commerce Minister Rodrigo Malmierca told foreign business people
and diplomats at the country's annual trade fair that Cuba has approved
83 foreign investment projects worth more than $1.5 billion since the
passage of a new foreign investment in March 2014. That puts the country
at about a third of the annual flow required to meet its goal of
attracting $2 billion a year in foreign investment.
Even that figure may be optimistic: The list of 83 projects includes
many that are in very early stages or have yet to begin construction.
"We aren't advancing, I repeat, at the rhythm that we want," Malmierca
said. "We need to keep working hard for deals to become reality without
problems, without unnecessary delays."
He said Cuba was working to ease the flow of investments with new
measures like allowing foreign businesses to invest in infrastructure
projects and in the agricultural cooperatives that produce much of the
"Our government is willing to resolve the problems that still hinder the
completion of these objectives," he said.
Cuba blames most of its economic problems on a U.S. embargo that limits
international trade with the island despite new U.S. regulations
designed by the Obama administration to ease what Cubans call "the
blockade." International business people and increasingly Cuban
officials themselves say the island's slow-moving and risk-averse
bureaucracy is a major obstacle, with important documents often taking
months to move from one official's desk to another.
Investment from European companies appears to be picking up steam, with
Cuba in August granting state-backed French firm Aeroports de Paris a
concession to renovate and operate Havana's Jose Marti airport.
Formal trade between the U.S. and Cuba remains at a trickle despite a
few marquee deals for big brands, including airlines starting commercial
flights to Havana this month.
The mood was subdued among U.S. companies exhibiting Monday at the
International Fair of Havana, the island's biggest general-interest
trade exposition. As Cuba trumpeted new deals with Russia and Japan,
U.S. corporate representatives staffing stands at a pavilion shared with
Puerto Rico said they saw little immediate prospect for doing business
Retired software entrepreneurs Saul Berenthal and Horace Clemmons made
worldwide headlines by winning Obama administration permission to build
the first U.S. factory in Cuba since 1959. Cuban officials lauded their
plans to build small tractors in the Mariel free-trade zone west of
Havana. But after more than a year of courtship, the Cuban government
told Berenthal and Clemmons to drop their plan, without explanation,
Berenthal said Monday.
A month and a half ago, their first tractors started rolling off their
assembly line in the town of Fyffe, Alabama, population about 1,000.
"Producing the tractors in Mariel was not going to happen," Berenthal said.
He said the company is already selling tractors to customers in the U.S.
and Australia and has had inquiries from Peru, Mexico and Ethiopia. He
also still hopes to sell to Cuba.
Obama has enacted six rounds of regulations punching holes in the trade
embargo, allowing imports and exports, sales to the socialist government
and limited U.S. investment on the island. Cuba has allowed Airbnb,
Starwood hotels and U.S. airlines including American and JetBlue to set
Observers note that Cuba's small but growing private sector has been
able to flourish and produce tens of thousands of new jobs despite the
strictures of the embargo. Untold millions of dollars have flowed into
Cuba over the last two years, funding thousands of new private
bed-and-breakfasts and dozens of new restaurants in the capital as
detente with the U.S. sets off a boom in tourism to the island.
Some see the stagnant state of official trade with the U.S. as a
conscious decision by the Cuban government to limit commerce to a few
high-profile bites of the apple while funneling most business toward
European and Asian companies, in order to keep the U.S. business
community hungry for more and pushing Congress to do away with the embargo.
"The Cuban government is using the interest by U.S. companies as bait to
entice the interest of companies in other countries," said John Kavulich
of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, a private group that
produces mostly skeptical analyses of the prospects of U.S.-Cuba trade.
"The Cuban government is saying, 'Let's not give any more than
absolutely necessary to U.S. companies,' so that the companies will
continue to salivate toward illusory potential opportunities. There's
far more inspiration and aspiration than reality."
Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein
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