HAVANA TIMES — More than 40 Spanish entrepreneurs headed by Spain’s State Secretary for Trade Jaime Garcia Legaz are taking part in a business forum held at Havana’s Hotel Nacional to learn of business and investment opportunities currently being offered by Cuba.
During the forum, Cuban authorities declared that foreign investment had become an essential component – and not merely a complement – of their development plans, and that they sought to offer foreign partners fair treatment for mutual benefit.
The foreign investment law approved by parliament in March of last year, the regulations that make existing legislation more flexible and the recent rapprochement between the United States and Cuba were the favorable developments underscored by the Spanish delegation.
According to Spain’s State Secretary for Trade, the delegation accompanying him includes construction, renewable energy (a sector where Spain is currently an international leader), and hotel and tourism companies.
“Spanish companies willing to accompany the island in this process of change wish to take advantage of the opportunities opening up in Cuba,” Garcia Legaz stated.
“Spain has informed the Cuban government of its interest in broadening relations with Cuba,” the official added.
He declared that the Bank of Spain has decided to make credit conditions applicable to transactions with Cuba more flexible, particularly in the tourism sector. The bank will also finance development projects in the Caribbean country, something that had not been done to date.
According to Joaquin Gay de Montella, Vice-Chair of the Spanish Business Organizations Confederation (CEOE), “we have received the new framework of relations between the Cuban and Spanish governments, and between the European Union and the island, with great hopes.”
The business leader announced that, 2014 saw more than a billion euros in bilateral trade, while investments on the island reached the sum of 750 million dollars, more than 30 percent of which are Spanish.
Gay de Montella underscored that 2,500 companies in the Confederation are multi-national corporations based in at least five countries, an important factor for Cuban exports.
Participants also congratulated Cuban authorities for the political talks to be held on the island with EU officials, saying that this, coupled with the re-establishment of relations with the United States, was hugely satisfying.
Odalys Seijo Garcia, Interim Chair of the Cuban Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the entrepreneurs and government officials who participated in the business forum, which closes on Wednesday.
Seijo pointed out that, even though Cuba’s Gross Domestic Product had not grown as much as expected (1.3 percent in 2014), the country has met all of its foreign obligations and hopes to be able to grow by 4 percent this year.
Over the last five years, the island has seen an average GDP growth of 2.5 percent, a rate considered insufficient for Cuba’s development plans, the official acknowledged.
The island’s Chair of the Chamber of Commerce insisted that the country requires foreign investment most of all in terms of technology and markets.
Vice-Chair of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce Modesto Piñeiro stressed his satisfaction over the changes Cuba is making and the start of talks with the United States.
This has been well received by companies already based in Cuba and by others that wish to take part in current changes. Piñeiro mentioned that there is interest in the 246 investment projects offered and the Mariel Special Development Zone, which is to draw large and above all small and medium sized companies.
Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment official Deborah Vives pointed out that Cuba has more than 11 million inhabitants, and that companies that believe a market of 11 million consumers is not worth investing in are mistaken.
The most important thing is that every project is mindful of the foreign market and that investment opportunities today require around 2.7 billion dollars. That said, there is room for small companies as well, she added.
Vives stated five new areas of development within the tourism industry have become open to investment. In addition to the operation of commercial facilities, these include the development of the real estate sector.
The new tourism areas mentioned include Santa Lucia (Camaguey), Guardalavaca (Holguin) and Covarrubias (Las Tunas).
Lastly, during a presentation about the Mariel Special Development Zone, a Ministry of Foreign Trade official stated that the Zone is designed as an industrial area aimed at substituting imports, generating exports and developing clean technologies.