Recent discussions at the country’s highest level, about the necessity of foreign investment truly becoming, as the law indicates, “a fundamental, active element in the development of certain sectors of the economy,” focused on the need for more creativity and agility in handling projects: some yet to be identified; others gathering dust in the portfolio of opportunities; and a few too many stalled in negotiations because of delayed paperwork.
This according to Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz, minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, who reported during a meeting of the Council of Ministers that, since a new policy in this arena was approved in 2014, increased participation of foreign capital in the economy has been noted, though its weight within total investment in the country remains low.
Although positive results were attained in 2017, the current level of foreign investment is not yet adequate to significantly advance development. Thus the promotion of commercial alliances and direct foreign investment remains a strategic priority, to be fomented and facilitated in all available environments.
The recent International Convention and Exposition Cubaindustria 2018, focused its third edition on consolidating ties already in place with important trade partners like Russia and China, as well as the establishment of new relations that will allow for diversification and generate economic activity in the short term. This continues to be a challenge.
The Investment Forum during the event, among the programs prioritized, allowed for the holding of more than 50 bilateral meetings and included presentations by authorities from the Mariel Special Development Zone and the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment, who reiterated the advantages Cuba offers investors and emphasized the potential of domestic industry, in need of expansion and dynamism.
Industry is basic to the development of the country, essential across all sectors of the economy, and what is accomplished or not in this arena impacts prospects for Cuba’s projected growth rate.
The updating and modernization of the economy with capital from abroad supposes taking risks, which is not the same as improvising, as government authorities have insisted, but rather fully in line with policy established setting the course for light industry, as well as the metallurgical, chemical, and electronic.
Ana Iris Cabrera Salomón, deputy director of Investment and Collaboration at the Ministry of Industry, noted that efforts are directed toward “promoting projects to modernize and create new capacity with the objective of meeting national demand, substituting imports, and generating exports.”
New companies must generate spill-over, favoring productive links between tourism and agriculture; strengthen the transfer of technology, including managerial methods; contribute to developing infrastructure and the use of renewable resources to generate electricity; and above all support the implementation of policies approved for each sector.
Reflecting these principles, the Portfolio of Opportunities for Foreign Investment contains 456 projects, including 10 promoted by the Ministry of Industry which are directed toward the production and sales of rigid tubes for individual cigars; flexible packaging; tin cans; prefabricated metal structures; electrical conductors; and the comprehensive management of urban solid waste.
The Mariel Special Development Zone is coordinating 14 projects, whose operations should contribute to the implementation of national policies focused on packaging, the use of renewable energy, and supplying the tourist industry.
Cabrera noted that beyond the will, realizing these goals requires strengthening negotiating teams, providing not only theoretical training, but also the tools needed during the interactive process of closing a deal.
Work is underway, she said, to “increase, via our enterprise groups, the regular checking of projects and their progress in accordance with timelines foreseen… to be more dexterous when it comes to handling permits and licenses to conclude the paperwork.
“In all of this, we must work in a rapid fashion, while keeping systems of technological and engineering vigilance active, and using all means to get to know our providers and identify a broad group of possible partners.”
She likewise commented on finding ways to provide incentives to negotiators, to encourage then to give this process the priority it requires, since many involved have multiple responsibilities, and at times this efforts gets less attention.
According to Cabrera, today the Ministry of Industry is sponsoring 20 projects with foreign investment, in the Special Development Zone and beyond, including those functioning as joint ventures, administration contracts, and international economic associations. Outstanding among partner countries are Spain, Italy, and Canada.
In light industry, she explained, projects include the production of toiletries, hygiene and cleaning products; the printing of fine labels and cases; textile garments; as well as mattresses and disposable baby diapers.
The four international economic associations in the chemical industry are devoted to the production of industrial gases, toilet paper, and paper napkins. In the latter case, the production facility was the object of a significant investment process, she reported.
In electronics, for its part, one joint venture offers telephone and networking services, and operating in the metallurgical industry are two entities: one devoted to producing structures for construction, currently being set up in Mariel, and the other to repair and maintain transportation equipment.
Cabrera also emphasized projects currently in the negotiations stage that look promising, mentioning two in particular to manufacture aluminum and glass containers, which would be located in Mariel, and another to produce and retread tires.
In closing she returns to efforts to work with more agility, eliminating delays and prejudices, sharpening our senses in the search for the “right” partners, with high quality productions and services as a maxim, to make foreign investment the “fundamental, active element” Cuba needs.