T&T is Cuba’s largest trading partner in Caricom region and fifth overall in the wider Latin America and Caribbean region. In recent times, the two countries have been exploring new avenues for trade with focus on construction and design and events management.
Latest available data from the Ministry of Trade shows that this country exported an estimated $456 million in goods to Cuba in 2016 and imported $37 million worth of products.
Goods exported to Cuba included anhydrous ammonia, diesel and other gas oils, toilet paper and facial tissues, bunker ‘c’ grade fuel oil, (Angostura) aromatic bitters, preserved or prepared fruits, nuts or plant parts, water-thinned paints and eye-makeup preparations. Cuba’s exports to T&T included ethyl alcohol, safety/detonating fuses, cigars, clothing items, insecticides and non-sparkling wine.
That country’s value as a trading partner is underpinned by the fact that its GDP improved by 1.6 per cent last year and is estimated to improve by some two per cent this year. Its tourism industry has shown great improvement with 4.6 million visits for the year so far. The introduction of flights by Caribbean Airlines (CAL) was identified as a significant contributor.
The ecosystem that facilitates business exports to Cuba involves EximBank and exporTT assisting with financing and business-to-business (B2B) elements. In fact, exporTT participated in the 37th Havana International Fair (FIHAV) which concluded last week.
FIHAV, the most important multi-sectoral trade fair in Cuba, has been taking place since 1983. It is one of the best attended Latin American and Caribbean trade conferences, providing a strong business platform for new companies in the international market, as well those that are already established.
The event has become an important forum for T&T and Cuba to conduct business meetings, seminars, conferences, among other activities and this year it attracted more than 3000 exhibitors from approximately 65 countries. This enabled the signing of trade agreements and hosting of bilateral meetings to improve commercial links and economic relations with other countries.
This year, 17 T&T companies took part in FIHAV including five exhibitors, with 48 high-level visits to this country’s booths and 121 business meetings with officials from Cuba and other international companies.
There are early indicators of export breakthroughs for SM Jaleel, Carib Glass, Carib Brewery, ANSA Coatings, Angostura and Sasha Cosmetics and, for the second consecutive year, exporTT signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Cuban Chamber.
Betty-Ann Noriega Mollineau, manager, export promotion and communications at exporTT explained: “We are currently working with 14 companies to get them into Cuba. Their products have been registered and we are just working on the fine details to be able to penetrate the market. Some of the viable local sectors have been glass bottles, paint, the services sector and in the near future food and beverage.”
She said local construction companies are poised to play an instrumental role in the design of Cuban hotels and there is considerable interest in what T&T’s services sector has to offer, such as a wide scope of engineering services.
“Parties have signed an agreement and at the end of this month the local engineer is going back to Cuba to confirm the details,” Noriega Mollineau said.
Local companies didn’t only attend FIHAV to showcase their products. Some are hoping to source raw materials from the island, including a local manufacturer attended who is interested in sourcing steel and its by products.
“We encourage our participants to not only look to sell but also purchase from Cuba as well, especially if these products can be used in the manufacturing process. We want to encourage more collaborative trade with T&T and Cuba,” Noriega Mollineau said.
T&T’s export/import relationship with Cuba was made possible through the Trade and Economic Co-operation Agreement between Caricom and Cuba, which was signed on July 5, 2000. This country subsequently passed the Caricom-Cuba Trade and Economic Co-operation Act No 5 of 2006, which gave effect to the agreement.
The agreement provides for duty-free treatment of certain goods, including agricultural products at specified times of the year. In addition to trade in goods, the agreement also covers trade promotion and facilitation, services (to be negotiated), tourism, investment and intellectual property rights between the parties.
Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuba’s Minister for Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, said, one of the main objectives of FIHAV is to expand and diversify the country’s ties abroad to increase exports of goods, services and foreign investment.
He said there has been progress with investments in key sectors of Cuba’s economy such as energy, particularly the development of renewable sources, infrastructure, tourism, industry and the agricultural food sector.
Cuba, which is still subject to an economic blockade by the United States, the world’s biggest and most influential economy since the early 1960s. This has complicated the country’s ability to develop international trade.
However, improved relations with the United States have increased prospects for a range of economic activities and more trade and travel between the two countries provides opportunities for investment and new markets.
But even after 15 years of trade relations with T&T, the Cuban market still needs more development.
“The Cuban way of doing business is different. It’s not a market you can visit when you want. It takes time to enter. A request has to be first sent to the Cuban Chamber. There are local companies who are getting into the market this year but it has been as a result of three, four years of hard work including doing seminars, participating in FIHAV and product awareness.
“The trade facilitation office in Cuba also helped a lot as it engages potential buyers,” Natalie Richards, senior business adviser at exporTT explained.
Recent successes include a local chemical company that will soon be producing fertilisers for the entire Cuban market. However, products like pepper sauce have not yet found root in Cuba. Instead, generic products like pastas are more favourable.
“The reason is there’s a lot of tourists going to Cuba and therefore it has to cater to an international audience and its tastes but exporTT is hoping that flavours that are synonymous to T&T will eventually find their way in Cuba,” Richards said.
Angostura Bitters has been successful in Cuba and is a popular ingredient in mojitos the signature drink of the island.
Francola John, director of events at GCM Caribbean Ltd, participated in FIHAV for the first time this year and is the second services company from T&T seeking to get into the Cuban market. She said the experience was an eye-opener.
“For my company it really expanded the possibilities of where trade can go for T&T. The B2B meetings were very targeted and every participant had easy opportunities to make connections which were relevant to their business sector,” John said.
“My company was able to connect with some of those in conventions and events management. It was my first time, so it was really about fact-finding and what the market can offer for me.”
John hopes her business will find a niche to export services to Cuba’s corporate market.