March 9, 2017 / 10:51 PM / 7 months ago

Cuba says approved five new proposals for Mariel development zone

HAVANA, March 9 (Reuters) - Cuba said on Thursday it had approved five new business proposals for its Mariel special development zone, bringing the total so far to 24 projects from 11 countries, worth $966 million in investment. The Communist-run island created the zone three years ago, hoping to lure foreign capital with significant tax and customs breaks to boost its anemic economy.

But the projects approved since the country’s annual trade fair last November are mainly services providers, rather than factories that would require heavy investment.

They include Portuguese firm Engimov, which will offer engineering and construction services, and a Cuban-Spanish joint venture that will provide tourism services, said Oscar Perez, Mariel’s business assessment director.

Ultimately, cash-strapped Cuba hopes to replace imports with goods manufactured in the zone around Mariel Bay, just west of Havana.

Swiss firm Nestle (NESN.S), for example, has imported goods to Cuba for many years and is close to reaching a deal on forming a joint venture in Mariel.

In an interview on Wednesday, Nestle Vice President Laurent Freixe said the company aimed to build a $50 million to $60 million factory producing coffee, cookies and cooking products.

At last year’s trade fair, Foreign Commerce Minister Rodrigo Malmierca admitted the country was behind on its plans to attract $2 billion in investment annually to update the economy. (Editing by Dan Grebler)

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