Since 2008, the Brazilian Agency of Export Promotion and Investment, Apex-Brazil, has had a Business Center in Havana. In this time, the bilateral commerce has increased 9.2%, and at the end of 2013, reached 624 million dollars. Such sums place the South American country as Cuba´s second largest business partner on the continent and among the top five worldwide.
São Paulo and the Cuban capital were united last July with a direct airline route, which implies increased fluidity and speed in the exchanges. Without a doubt, the Mariel Special Development Zone is the main joint project, where Brazil is the largest investor; of 900 million dollars. According to Hipólito Rocha, the general director of Apex-Brasil, there is great growth potential on the island for business ties between the two countries.
At the end of March, a Brazilian delegation with representatives from 32 businesses traveled to Havana. What were the most important results of this meeting? Did they come to some agreement?
I saw the Brazilian intention as very positive, there is a lot of expectation. This mission was on a level of business prospection, in the productive installation of Mariel as well as the market polling; for the business representatives to receive information, learn about the regiment created there, and what support and guarantees the investment would give. We are starting to study the possibilities of having warehouses and bringing production here.
Now we have a phase of commerce intelligence, of summary and analysis of this mission. Thirty-two businesses is a pretty large number. This will take its time, under the decisions of each director from both sides. A lot depends on the Cuban executives and businessmen, in the way of attracting and showing the worth of doing business with Cuba. There has to be a lot of promotion, a lot of professionalism in the way the prioritized projects are presented to the country. Some businesses already exhibited concrete ideas, and their follow-up interests. I would like to talk about this with more property, names, numbers; but we are in a moment of evaluation. My interpretation is that is has been an excellent initial experience.
What attractions does Cuba offer to Brazilian businessmen and investors?
The Mariel Zone is an innovative project, with a high-technology port. I believe that it will attract many businesses, not just from Brazil, but from other parts of the world. Cuba has a very well-prepared technical personnel. That is a great advantage. Really, Cuba is in a position for determined sectors to grow and improve, it is at a point of success. It can´t go at the same speed as the rest of the world, because it is a small country, with certain limitations because of the embargo, but they are adopting the correct, professional measures.
Cuba has an enormous development in biotechnology, which is shown by the vaccines and effective products, with top technology. Brazil is already working on this, not on such a large scale, but it is billing almost 6 million dollars annually. There is an easy understanding, sympathy, and a natural identification between Cuba and Brazil. This isn´t the case with everyone, and this circumstance can generate beneficial exchanges. We have had business procedures, stable dealing, we fulfill the commitments between the two sides, the result should be growth.
Recently President Dilma Rouseff and former President Lula Da Silva visited the country. Is Brazil paying special attention to business in Cuba? How much can the good relations between the governments help in the economic and commercial field?
In all aspects, the good political relation directly influences the commercial development, it is very important because it creates paths of credibility. With these visits, we have real proof that Cuba is a priority for our country. Apex has been very active, it is at all the main events, we are big participants at the International Fair of Havana (FIHAV).
Brazil has had an open, clear position. I believe that Cuba should adopt this type of relationship with other countries as well, so there is really a growth in sustainable development. The commercial relation between Brazil and Cuba is an example of how others can work with flexibility, coherence, to find a path.
2014 promises to be a big year for business in Cuba, since the Mariel Containers Terminal is already working, and the new Foreign Investment law is approved. What would be the immediate plans of Apex-Brazil in this environment? What new sectors could develop?
We work in almost all sectors: industry, construction, energy, exterior commerce. We can advance in technologies, transportation, tourism, and the agro and food areas. We are involved with a project called “More Foods,” which is not just bringing food from Brazil, but creating technical and mechanical support to produce more here. We can really help in the development of Cuban agriculture, which we are already doing with the improvement of soy harvests and corn planting.
We have experience with the first sugar mills managed by a Brazilian business. We are the largest sugar producers on the planet, and for that reason, there is a lot to offer to recuperate the sugarcane and productivity of Cuban sugar.
We have 11 thousand Cuban doctors that are providing excellent service there. All this should equalize the commercial balance between the two countries. This year we should increase the number of businesses at FIHAV. We want to bring more Brazilian missions, see which type of businesses (that benefit both sides) can be done in the Mariel Zone. I think this is a focal point. Today, things in Cuba continue going well, with the real possibility of getting even better. Now, we depend on the management that the two sides decide on for their joint business….