Cuba aspires to create joint associations with Caribbean countries, with a view to stimulating joint development by exploiting common factors, while respecting each nation’s culture and history, Cuban officials stated during a press conference held in the context of the High-Level Segment of the Association of Caribbean States ACS-AEC, taking place today, March 9, in the Cuban capital.
Through this event, we are showing the world that we are an extremely important area, stated José Chaple Hernández, director of Trade Policy for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment (Mincex).
Chaple noted that the ACS-AEC is an important mechanism for member states and a vital point of contact for the Caribbean region.
According to the Cuban official, the Constitutive Agreement of the organization, created in 1994, seeks to promote dialogue, cooperation and joint action between Caribbean countries.
In this sense he highlighted the First ACS-AEC Cooperation Conference which took place yesterday, March 8, during which projects on climate change and inter-Caribbean transportation were presented.
Regarding trade, he noted that Cuba is the main commercial partner of ACS-AEC countries within the Latin American region, while the Caribbean makes up 20% of the island’s foreign trade partnerships.
Chaple went on to note that Venezuela and Mexico feature among Cuba’s top 10 trading partners, while trade with Trinidad and Tobago’s increased during 2016.
The Cuban official noted that such exchanges were made possible thanks to cooperation agreements with various countries of the region.
“Regarding construction, the most recent example of collaboration was the inauguration of the Argyle International Airport, in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, which was attended by Salvador Valdés Mesa, a Council of State vice president,” stated Chaple.
He explained that Cuba maintains historic cooperation ties with Haiti, where 700 of the island’s health professionals are currently offering their services, while also noting that initial steps have already been taken to continue such efforts with the country’s new government, led by Jovenel Moise.
IT’S NOT ABOUT COMPETING, IT’S ABOUT SHARING
“We are all in the same geographic area, a space of great economic importance, linking north to south, through which both goods and people travel. This is a strategic region,” stated Déborah Rivas Saavedra, Mincex director general of foreign investment.
The Cuban official stressed that the regional economy should not be viewed from the perspective of competition, but cooperation. “It’s about making the most of common assets and creating economic alliances,” she stated. We treat tourism, a strategic sector in the region, as something shared, not a competition, noted Rivas Saavedra, adding that Cuba received over four million visitors last year.
Regarding joint growth, the Cuban official explained that, “With special development zones in the region, the 22 member states and partners, believe that we should take a leap forward together.
“Cuba in particular,” she noted “has developed a regulatory framework which enables our Caribbean partners to seek out agreements which generate mutual benefits.”
We have signed agreements with various regional countries and investors are able to enjoy the tax incentives offered by our island, she stated.
Rivas also reaffirmed Cuba’s interest in expanding cooperation with the Caribbean community and called to establish strategic alliances within the ACS-AEC.
She went on to note that the country has clearly defined medium and long term development goals, which include foreign investment in well-defined areas.
Rivas recalled that Cuba continues to be the victim of an economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States, the extraterritorial nature of which negatively affects the island’s relations with foreign partners.
These are the objective conditions which impact on and prevent the island from attracting more foreign investment, she noted.
She went on to explain that internal problems exist, such as the need to further train Cuban businesspeople, but stated that “our problems cannot be solved with the strike of a pen, with the signing of a foreign investment law. We must create and enhance the capabilities of our entrepreneurs.”
THE ZEDM: A VEHICLE FOR PROMOTING COOPERATION
These encounters held within the framework of the ACS-AEC are of vital importance to regional integration as they facilitate exchanges and dialogue, stated Oscar Pérez Oliva Fraga, Business Assessment director at the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM).
Oliva Fraga recalled that the ZEDM was created in September 2013, intended to be a hub for industrial, logistical, port and commercial projects with the aim of making the Caribbean a strategic trade center, and supporting regional and global integration.
The ZEDM official noted that thus far the Zone has 24 users, three of the most important of which are ACS-AEC member states, including Mexico and Panama.
He stated that there are currently 11 investors based in the 465.4 square kilometer zone, including Cuba, with 966 million dollars worth of investment projects approved to date.
Oliva Fraga went on to highlight that 4,073 jobs have been created among eight of the ZEDM’s 24 users.
The ZEDM provides an opportunity to strengthen links within the region and the rest of the world, noted the Cuban official.
The container terminal is also a great opportunity to promote trade and maritime connectivity, he said.
According to Pérez Oliva, new projects have recently been incorporated into the ZEDM, such as a Portuguese design company, engineering and material production initiatives, a logistics services company from Panama and another from Brazil, as well as a joint venture between A.T. Comercial and Iberostar providing tourism based logistics services.