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AEEC: Spain's biz link in Cuba.

For those who are uncertain about Spain's commercial connections with Cuba, a glitzy trade show is more than enough proof. The 2012 Havana International Fair (FIHAV) attracted 130 Spanish companies--both those already active in Cuba, and those seeking contracts with Cuban state entities.

Last year, bilateral trade reached [euro] 1 billion, up 14% from 2011, according to Spain's ambassador in Havana, Francisco Montalban

Spain's Asociacion de Empresarios Espanoles en Cuba (AEEC), established in 1994 just when Cuba began opening up to foreign investment, is housed in the Melia Cohiba along Havana's Malecon. The group represents Spanish firms doing business in Cuba.

Its roster includes high-profile companies like resort groups Occidental Hoteles, Barcelo, and Grupo Iberostar, as well as financial institutions Bankia and Banco Sabadell.

The AEEC also has many small and medium-sized firms as members, in areas ranging from construction and import-export to industrial and automotive parts, real estate, food and beverages.

Besides tourism, Spanish food exports to Cuba are perhaps the most conspicuous evidence of the two countries' commercial ties.

Before 2000, when the Clinton administration legalized U.S. food sales to Cuba, Havana's "dollar store" supermarkets were filled with canned and bottled Spanish food items, including ketchup, mustard and tomato paste manufactured by Vima Foods in Coruna, Spain.

Vima's long presence in Cuban supermarkets and resorts explains why its owner, Victor Moro Suarez, is also the head of AEEC

Under his leadership, AEEC advised Spanish firms of business opportunities in Cuba and helped entrepreneurs settle into Havana. More importantly, it promoted and at times defended Spanish commercial interests vis-a-vis the Cuban government and in Spain itself.

MORO: CUBA IS 'IMMERSED IN A PROCESS OF ECONOMIC REFORM'

Unlike some foreign investors in Cuba, who were flashy or got involved in the country's politics (such as Chilean entrepreneur Max Marambio), Moro maintained a low profile in Havana--preferring to let his products speak for him.

"I devote myself to selling food," he told Spain's La Opinion Coruna in 2009. "The ketchup that sells the most in Caribbean hotels is mine. And I compete with Heinz and other major brands."

Because Moro and AEEC chose a country with a risky business climate, it was inevitable that they'd eventually encounter problems. In 2009, Moro got caught up with Cuba's cash crunch, when he and other Spanish executives were unable to gain access to as much as $600 million in their deposits held in Cuban banks.

According to the Madrid daily newspaper ABC, tensions were at their worst in November 2009, when, upon hearing of Moro's complaints during a dinner promoting Spanish-Cuban economic ties, the Castro regime temporarily took away Vima's license to do business on the island.

By early 2010, Vima Foods was able to supply Cuban resorts and supermarkets again, albeit under a new contract with more stipulations that favored the Cuban government. By the time FIHAV took place in November 2011, Moro was more upbeat about Cuba's investment climate, telling reporters the island offered "tremendous possibilities" for Spanish businessmen.

Last December, AEEC was in the news again, this time in Spain, when it protested Iberia Airlines' decision to suspend its nonstop flights from Madrid to Havana.

"Cuba is immersed in a process of economic reform which raises expectations of future importance," Moro told Spanish news agency EFE. "Iberia has been operating in Havana for over 50 years and has no justification to abandon its flights [to Cuba] now." Besides hurting bilateral trade, Moro said Iberia's decision would compel Cuba-bound Spanish business travelers to book second flights through other international airports to reach Havana.

Details: Asociacion de Empresarios Espanoles en Cuba (AEEC), 5ta Avenida y 78, Miramar Trade Center, Ofic. #216, La Habana. Tel: +53 7 204-0729. Fax: +53 7 204-0728. Email: aeec@aeec.mtc.co.cu.
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Author:Echevarria, Vito
Publication:CubaNews
Geographic Code:4EUSP
Date:Apr 1, 2013
Words:625
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