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French trade mission upbeat about Cuba.

A business delegation that included executives of 17 French corporations spent three days in Havana March 5-7 to scout for investments in energy, transportation, telecom and agribusiness, reported

The Mar. 5-7 mission followed a November 2011 visit by Foreign Trade Secretary Pierre Lellouche, who expects French investments in Cuba to rise from [euro]150 million ($201 million) to [euro]250 million ($335 million) this year.

"Despite the U.S. embargo, the improvement of the economic situation since 2009 grants some flexibility to Cuban authorities to update its economic model and the ministerial reorganization following the Party Congress in April 2011," the Mouvement des Entreprises de France (Medef) said in an invitation letter to delegation participants.

The delegation was headed by Pierre Pringuet, CEO of Pernod Ricard SA. The Paris-based liquor giant is the foreign partner in the Havana Club rum joint venture.

The group met, among others, Deputy Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez. This was the second Medef delegation to visit Cuba since 2008, said

Lellouche was the highest-ranking French official to visit Cuba in nine years. France suspended bilateral government cooperation in 2003, after Cuba imprisoned 75 people in a crackdown. In December 2010, a week after Cuba announced it had freed all of the 75, France and Cuba resumed cooperation.

Politics aside, the main stumbling block is Cuba's debt and its falling behind on payments to French government agency Coface, which has not provided credit guarantees related to Cuba since 2006. A Cuban delegation traveled to France in January to discuss debt issues; neither Coface nor the Cuban government made an announcement about the outcome of the talks.

In its latest Cuba risk assessment, Coface predicts "mediocre" growth for 2012, citing the slowness of reforms and a slow shift of workers from state to private-sector jobs.

Coface expects rising unemployment, inflationary pressure, slowing tourism, and a fall in nickel prices to depress growth this year.
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Geographic Code:5CUBA
Date:Apr 1, 2012
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