Cuba & Trinidad Explore New Avenues for Trade

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.