Germany’s Gabriel in Cuba for trade talks

Sigmar Gabriel and Rodrigo Malmierca signing a memorandum of understanding on promoting German commerce. [EFE]

Germany’s Vice-Chancellor and Minister for Economic Affairs, Sigmar Gabriel, has started an official visit to Cuba where he hopes to promote economic and trade relations. EURACTIV’s partner EFE reports.

Gabriel, the first European minister to visit the Caribbean island in 2016, arrived with a delegation from 60 German companies on Thursday (7 January), where he was greeted by the nation’s Vice-President, Miguel Díaz-Canel.

During the meeting, Díaz-Canel and Gabriel spoke about strengthening bilateral relations and increasing links from an economics and commercial point of view, as well as from a cultural, scientific and educational standpoint.

Gabriel’s agenda for his first day in Havana included opening a business forum in which he hoped to encourage Cuban small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to partner up with German equivalents, while highlighting the advantages of innovation.

>>Read: EU-Cuba talks progress on trade

Germany’s vice-chancellor also stressed the bonuses of “initiating a new and more dynamic stage” of economic relations and cooperation with Cuba.

“These companies have a global presence and show great innovation in terms of technological progress, which makes German industry competitive,” noted the minister in relation to German SMEs on the island, which he hailed as the “backbone” of the German economy.

Gabriel also added that these types of businesses are the most suitable to Cuba’s “updating” of its economic model, which will require around $2.5 billion a year in external investment, without seeking a quick profit and focusing on profitable and sustainable long-term investment.

Whilst signalling Germany’s willingness to establish an economic partnership with Cuba on an “equal footing”, Gabriel insisted that the island nation would have to offer an “investment climate”, such as “reliability, less bureaucracy and above all, implementation of reforms”, the latter of which have been instigated by President Raúl Castro since 2011. 

>>Read: Mogherini visits Cuba to normalise ties

German investors are mostly interested in the Cuban agri-food industry, heavy machinery and energy sectors.

In a time when Cuba seeks greater openness to foreign investment, the island is offering a business portfolio that allows participation in projects with a total estimated value of $8 billion, made possible by new legislation adopted in March 2014.

Additionally, the construction of the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM), a business park and mega-port, is underway. The area is intended to offer advantageous conditions for foreign business and promote the transfer of cutting-edge technology, know-how and managerial skills.

>>Read: US to remove sanctions on EU firms who do business with Cuba

Also in attendance at the opening of the forum was Rodrigo Malmierca, the Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, who also noted the “potential” for an economic relationship between Havana and Berlin. Both ministers also signed a memorandum of understanding on setting up an office in Havana to promote German commerce and industry, by the end of the year.

In Cuba, 50 German companies operate, including, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, Bosch and Siemens. In 2014, the annual bilateral trade between the two countries stood at €225 million. Cuban exports in that same year totalled some €32.6 million, principally in products such as honey, cigars, rum and juices. German companies exported around €191.3 million, mostly in machinery and wheat, placing Cuba 101st on the list of countries Germany exports to.

Gabriel is the first German economics minister to visit the island in 15 years and on Friday (8 January), plans to meet with his Cuban counterparts from the Energy and Industry ministries. 

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