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Regime courts investors as corruption probe continues.

The Cuban government's ongoing anticorruption probe, which has seen a growing number of British, Canadian and other Western businessmen detained on often vague charges, hasn't prevented others from promoting the island as a worthy investment partner.

With the Havana International Trade Fair (FIHAV) just weeks away, networking events are still being held on both sides of the Atlantic to lure potential entrepreneurs to Cuba.

In late September, Monica Lopez, head of UK Trade & Investment's Havana office, went on a charm offensive during the Business Festival 2013 event at Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk County, England.

"There is a big demand for renewable energy suppliers in Cuba and across Latin America and the Caribbean, and as a renowned hub for the UK's energy sector, local firms have the experience in renewables these markets are looking for," Lopez told participants.

"In Cuba, the government is committed to reducing the country's dependency on fossil fuels and a host of projects have been signed off, including a $55 million investment project to construct a sugar biomass plant," she said.

Other speakers at that event, such as Mark Dodd, head of international commercial banking for Lloyds TSB, and John Tingle, international trade adviser for UKTI, added an undeniable air of credibility to that trade event.

Meanwhile, Julio Garmendia, Cuba's ambassador to Canada, was a guest speaker at a Latin America trade promotion event in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Like Lopez, Garmendia drummed up Cuba's liberalized foreign investment laws and promoted his country's renewable energy initiatives, such as wind and solar power, as well as infrastructure renewal.

"Cuba is now undergoing a process of renovating its economic model, including the law for foreign investments," Garmendia told the Chronicle Herald, a Halifax newspaper. "The new law takes into account that foreign investments are a strategic part for the development of the economy in Cuba."


However, neither Garmendia nor Lopez warned these potential entrepreneurs about the possibility of being subjected to such legal scrutiny upon making a financial commitment in Cuba.

"It's one thing for the Cuban ambassador to Canada not to mention the minuses of his country's investment climate, such as arbitrary detentions, but it's another thing for a British government office like UKTI not to warn businesses about this practice by Raul Castro," said a British investor who spoke on background. "UKTI is doing these firms a disservice."

Instead, UKTI is warning British investors about the risks of doing business with Cuba's benefactor, Venezuela.

On a page that its website devoted to that country, UKTI cautioned that "since 2006, the Venezuelan government has pursued a policy of taking strategic sectors into State control. Foreign companies, including some British-owned businesses have been affected by this policy and are pursuing compensation from the Venezuelan government."

It continues: "Government exchange controls can make it difficult for foreign businesses invested in Venezuela to repatriate dividends to overseas headquarters in foreign currency. We strongly recommend that UK companies thinking of doing business in Venezuela undertake thorough market research and contact the UKTI Team at the British Embassy in Caracas for advice on market entry strategies."

UKTI doesn't offer similar advice on Cuba.

Instead, on its "Doing Business in Cuba" page, it simply advises British companies not to comply with Washington's Helms-Burton Act, and to avoid U.S. dollar transactions involving Cuban entities and individuals.
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Author:Echevarria, Vito
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 1, 2013
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