HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba said on Wednesday the country had attracted $1.7 billion worth of foreign investment over the past year despite a tighter U.S. trade embargo and worsening cash crunch, although it did not reach its goal of $2 billion to $2.5 billion annually.
Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca told a news conference at Cuba’s annual trade fair in Havana that 25 investment projects had been agreed since October last year, compared with 40 in the same period the previous year worth a lesser $1.5 billion.
Cuba’s Communist government passed a new foreign investment law five years ago and created a special economic zone just west of Havana boasting tax and customs breaks with the hope of attracting more foreign capital to boost its ailing state-dominated economy.
For a few years, Cuba had improved relations with the West, and foreign companies including U.S. firms descended upon Havana en masse, elbowing one another to gain a foothold in the opening market.
Ana Teresa Igarza, director general of the special economic zone, said on Wednesday that 50 projects had been agreed so far there, with 26 already in operation.
But Cuba’s economy has lost some appeal in recent years as it has entered a crisis due to the implosion of key ally Venezuela and a resulting decline in subsidies. Over the past year, there have been shortages of everything from fuel to medicine and certain foodstuffs.
In addition, U.S. President Donald Trump over the past two years has rolled back the détente of his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama and imposed new sanctions on Cuba. These include allowing U.S. citizens to sue foreign companies they deem to be trafficking in properties unlawfully confiscated from them after the island’s 1959 revolution.
The area of the fair presenting U.S. businesses, which had boomed only a few years ago, was a sad affair this week, with only a handful of companies present.
One of the few exhibitors present was Jay Brickman, vice president of Florida-based shipping company Crowley Maritime Corp, which has been shipping foods to Cuba for nearly two decades under an exemption to the U.S. trade embargo.
U.S. exports to Cuba suddenly contracted over the last month, likely due to Cuba’s difficulty getting financing in the wake of tighter sanctions.
Next week, Brickman said, his firm would be sending a ship over with just 13 containers on board, compared with the 50 containers needed to break even.
“It’s worse than ever before,” he said.
Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Leslie Adler