HAVANA TIMES – With Prime Minister Manuel Marrero seeking support in China, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel cut the ribbon this year for the 39th edition of the Havana International Fair (Fihav) with his Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Ricardo Cabrisas. The change was noticeable in the suit with tie, compared to the guayaberas of the last edition but, above all, in the prominence of Russia, one of the specialties of Cabrisas, who is also deputy prime minister.
Spain was once again the country with the most presence at the Fair, with 80 companies, and is the first investor in Cuba, Europe’s main trading partner and second in the world. However, the majority of praise went to Russia, with just 20 companies, mostly chemicals, food, logistics and energy. The country’s stand took center stage with the presence of Díaz-Canel at its inauguration and the praise went back and forth.
“It is another example of the growing interest of the Russian business community in the Cuban market as a result of the intergovernmental visits carried out between our presidents. We inaugurated the Antillana de Acero steel plant, the most modern of its kind in the country. We hope that it will soon be put into operation. the rolling mill is underway,” said Víctor Koronelli, ambassador to the Island, who valued the Russian presence at Fihav as a fundamental step in relations. “Together we will win,” he snapped.
Ana Teresita Fraga, first vice minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, celebrated the way in which economic relations have increased, in correspondence with political ones, and insisted on the contribution that Cuba can make to Russia: “being a bridge with Latin America, a region that has a lot to offer the world.
“Our relationship, in addition to being strategic partners, is allies,” stressed the official, who was joined by Antonio Carricarte, president of the Cuban Chamber of Commerce, who also praised the government visits and participation in economic forums of both. parts. “The presence of Russia ratifies their confidence in our economy. And not only for exchanges with our country, but as a bridge to the region,” he added.
The two parties were convinced of the potential of Russian tourism in Cuba, which they believe will grow with the resumption of direct flights at the end of the year. “Next year we want to reach 200,000 Russian tourists,” said Koronelli, an ambitious goal if one takes into account that the best year ever (2019) saw 177,977 travelers from that country and, since then, the drop has been strong even discounting factors such as the pandemic and the lack of flights due to European sanctions after the invasion of Ukraine. As of October 2023, 120,065 Russian tourists visited Cuba this year.
In terms more real than symbolic, however, Spain once again demonstrated its power at Fihav, especially through the powerful Basque industry, which has more than 50 companies on the Island. Ana Teresita Fraga also had words about the “historical ties, characterized by close family, cultural and economic ties, which are reflected in joint work in various sectors such as tourism, logistics, construction and food production. However, she admitted that the balance is very unequal with the European country, to which it hardly exports anymore – with the exception of coffee, rum, fish and seafood – and said that this has to change. Those words were echoed by the ambassador, Ángel Martín Peccis, who maintained that what unites his country with the Island “is something very special. It is not limited only to an issue of an economic transaction.”
The third country that was the focus of much of the attention this Monday was Brazil, with 60 companies present at the event, and seeking to recover the ground lost in recent years. The ambassador, Christian Vargas, maintained that in 2022 the bilateral trade exchange was approximately 300 million dollars, 60% more than the previous year, but still far from the 600 million dollars of ten years ago.
The Brazilian agri-food, construction materials, hygiene products, cleaning, agricultural machinery, cosmetics and fashion sectors are the most established in Cuba. “We want to participate in this important moment in Cuba’s economy, always with the objective of promoting its socioeconomic development. Brazil had a decisive participation in the construction of Mariel and we hope in the near future to have more Brazilian companies operating in that special area of development,” he said.
This year marks 10 years since the inauguration of the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM), to which Cabrisas dedicated his second words, since the first were for Fidel Castro. “Our first thought in this edition of the fair is for Commander in Chief Fidel Castro Ruz. He conceived this space so that countries and companies around the world could exhibit their services and strengthen commercial ties,” he said. Only later did he speak of the “boost” that the ZEDM has given to Cuba’s attractiveness, despite the fact that it was expected to raise 2.5 billion dollars annually and has brought in only 3.5 billion over the course of a decade.
As for the national state industry, also present at the fair, the official press highlighted the joint company Suchel Camacho, which presented a men’s perfume – D Havana – and a complete line of vegan makeup – of Catalan origin but produced in Cuba, which has been “very well received by consumers, who value the option of ethical and environmentally friendly products.”
Also owned by the State is Ilimpex, the export and import company of the Light Industry Business Group (Gempil) with which Cuba aspires to trade in gloves, furniture, jute bags, floor cleaning cloths, fabrics, guayaberas, sanitary napkins, stockings, and charcoal derived from marabou. While the praise in the private sector went, on this first day, to Renova, a company from Camagüey that sells solar panels to more than 320 clients in the national territory. Unlike the 2022 edition, the opening of Fihav did not have excessive nods to potential partners in the north, although there were some regulars, such as Crowley (maritime transport), whom Cabrisas called “consequential.” “Cuba does not discriminate against investors based on the origin of capital,” he stated.
Translation by Translating Cuba