A record over 3,500 exhibitors from 73 countries showed up on Monday at the 34th Havana international business and trade fair which was aimed to attract foreign investment and diversify its economy.
“This event shows the increasing interest of entrepreneurs from around the world in Cuba and its market in an unfavorable context for the nation’s economy which currently faces temporary financial limitations,” Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, said at the opening of the week-long fair.
Malmierca said the island’s “difficult economic situation” is due to external factors, which have caused an internal imbalance of hard currency and greater debts with foreign companies.
“We reiterate the trust and comprehension of companies that have been affected by this situation and express our government’s commitment to fulfilling its financial obligations,” he added.
Cuba’s economy only grew 1 percent in the first half of 2016 and will fall below its yearly target of 4 percent, in part due to the crisis in Venezuela, its main trading partner and oil supplier.
The minister highlighted that part of this commitment by Raul Castro’s government can be seen in the recent agreement with the Paris Club, which reorganized the island’s debt with major European and Asian nations.
Malmierca stressed that, over the last year, the interest by foreign companies in investing has increased and the next year should serve to “consolidate” new business opportunities.
“It is our government’s policy to consolidate our commercial ties with traditional partners and diversify our economic links with other countries. Cuba does not want to ever depend again on one market or country,” he said.
Regarding trade relations with the United States, Malmierca said the economic embargo that Washington still imposes on the island is the biggest obstacle towards normalizing financial and economic ties.
“Recent measures to relax the economic blockade have been positive but still very limited. Most of them cannot be implemented due to legal frameworks that cause fear among banks and foreign companies in the U.S. and around the world when it comes to trading with Cuba,” he said.
The Cuban official said this Caribbean nation has updated its investment opportunities portfolio with the largest number of projects to date.
This revised version will be launched at the fair.
Malmierca said the business portfolio adds new proposals in all priority sectors to the island, including tourism, renewable energy, oil exploration, food imports and nickel development.
A new law on foreign investment was approved in 2014 to provide a more favorable environment for companies to set up joint ventures in the island.
Another of Cuba’s flagship projects, the Special Economic Development Zone of Mariel, just 45 kilometers west of Havana, will be displayed to foreign participants.
The country is seeking to increase investment in the area, which has not yet had the expected impact on the island’s economy