The Feria Internacional de la Habana was buzzing this year. A record attendance from international companies at Cuba’s annual trade show is testament to changing times in one of the world’s last Communist countries. Thanks to economic reforms and growing engagement with the outside world there is more interest than ever from foreign companies looking to do business with Cuba.
“There was a huge presence especially from European, Chinese and Russian companies,” says Carolina Aristizábal, Marketing Manager for the Caribbean Sea Cluster who represented Maersk Line at the event. “Many foreign companies are looking for investment opportunities in Cuba today.”
It’s tender season, which means shipping lines are bidding for an annual contract from the government to carry cargo from Europe and Asia – as the Cuban government still controls most of the import and export business. The business value is significant – around 5,000 containers are imported from Europe and 25,000 from Asia every year.
Maersk Line is hoping its new direct service from Rotterdam, the first ever from Northern Europe to Cuba, will be instrumental in securing a major deal. A 2,556 TEU vessel now makes a weekly call to the state-of-the-art Mariel Port outside Havana, which is key to the government’s plan for attracting foreign investment.
“It’s crucial that we land the long-term deal with the Cuban government,” explains Aristizábal. “It’s a one-year tender and its constant cargo. We have submitted a very competitive bid, and our new service from Rotterdam, the first mother vessel to call Cuba, shows our commitment to the economy.”
A new production hub
While Cuba imports about USD 14 billion in goods per year, it exports just USD 5 billion so there is a huge potential for growth in that area.
“In the future, especially if US trade and investment sanctions are lifted, one could easily imagine a 5-10% annual growth rate in trade,” says Richard Feinberg author of “Open for Business: Building the New Cuban Economy”.
“In addition, once the transshipment port of Mariel is fully operational, ships could pass through the Panama Canal, off-load in Cuba, while the containers continue to ports along the Atlantic Seaboard of the USA. So opportunities for shipping are only limited by the imagination - and by the capacity of Cuban authorities to take advantage.”