Open for business: Companies pitch products at Havana trade fair

World Today

Cuba is open for business: That’s the message at the Havana International Trade Fair. Foreign companies are lining up to pitch their products, an increasing number of which come from China.

CGTN’s Michael Voss reports.

The 35th International Trade Fair attracted almost 3,500 exhibitors from 70 countries. An increasing number of the exhibitors are from China, which has replaced Venezuela as Cuba’s leading trade partner. Last year, the two conducted more than $2.5 billion worth of bilateral trade.

Cuba imports Chinese cars and buses as well as a wide range of consumer goods.

Russia also has a growing presence and has agreed in principle to a major $2 billion infrastructure project to renovate Cuba’s rail network. The final contract could be signed before the end of the year, Russia’s deputy industry minister said.

“In the nearest future, we will sign this railway agreement,” according to Georgy Kalamanov. “We think it will be the finest project here in Cuba. It’s not only a railway; it’s also the coaches, wagons, locomotives and so on.”

A U.S. section remains at the trade fair, but it is much smaller than in previous years. Some companies cancelled at the last minute.

Food organizations, which have been selling to Cuba for many years, took up most of the stands. Soybeans from the U.S. state of Virginia are one of the central products.

“We want Cuba to know that in the Commonwealth of Virginia, we are open for business,” Virginia Agriculture Secretary Basil Gooden said. “We want to strengthen that relationship, that partnership. So we are going to look at all positive opportunities that we have to do that.”

But Cuba is importing less right now due to a foreign currency reserves shortage. Opening the fair, Cuba’s foreign trade minister said it would continue to service its rescheduled external debt, while also asking foreign businesses for patience when it comes to payments.

“Given our temporary constraints in terms of foreign exchange cash flow, it has not been possible to give current payments by Cuban companies to their suppliers on schedule,” Rodrigo Malmierca said. “To them, we thank you for your confidence in the Cuban market, and we ratify our determination to resolve the situation as soon as possible.”

One thing the Cuban government has accelerated is its approval of proposed foreign investments. Malmierca announced that a record $2 billion worth of unspecified projects have been given the green light.