4:00AM Wednesday Feb 11, 2009
By Owen Hembry
Cuba is synonymous with making cigars but a visit to the communist
country by Auckland-based Cuba NZ hopes to identify opportunities for
Peter Lyashov founded Cuba NZ in October and heads to the Caribbean
country tomorrow to meet foreign trade officials.
There was a lot of interest from New Zealand companies, including wine
growers, Lyashov said.
"After conversation with [the Ambassador of Cuba], I get the feeling
that to export wine from New Zealand to Cuba is a great opportunity
because tourism is there and where there are tourists obviously
everybody wants to drink wine," he said.
Ambassador of Cuba Jose Luis Robaina Garcia said it was the first such
"Not the last but the first," Robaina said.
"I think this is a very important move because it's a global [view],
it's not one company or one sector, it's global."
Lyashov would tell New Zealand companies about the opportunities he had
identified in Cuba, which could be in areas such as tourism, oil, gas
In March Cuba will explore for oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico.
"So a New Zealand company may have interest in this," Robaina said.
New Zealand exported $72.7 million of products to Cuba in 2006, with
milk and cream powders accounting for 91.4 per cent and radio equipment
4.7 per cent.
Imports from Cuba in the same year were worth $1.3 million, with cigars
accounting for 75.2 per cent, coffee 12 per cent, spirits 6.7 per cent
and lobster 4.1 per cent.
"You have many things we have interests in and maybe when your people
know Cuba they can find some possibility of business," Robaina said.
"Business in the form of trade, business in the form of joint ventures,
business in the form of general product projects."
Cuba could act as a gateway into the Caribbean and Latin America, he said.
Cuba opened an embassy in Wellington in 2007.
"Our people don't know anything about New Zealand, only milk powder and
Fonterra. And New Zealand people don't know anything about Cuba except
cigar and salsa," Robaina said.
"We don't have any historical problem with New Zealand."
One country with which Cuba historically does have a problem is the
United States, which has held a long-standing embargo against the country.
Cuba hoped its relationship with the US might improve under new US
President Barack Obama.
"American people can visit every country in the world ... except Cuba,"
"It's very funny because US to Cuba is like Wellington to Auckland."