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HAVANA, Ja. 28th The Mexican meat processing company Richmeat, with a potential production capacity of 400 tons, Read more

Cuba’s Port of Mariel has already drawn investment interest from port operators and developers around the world. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG NEWS

Cuba’s Port of Mariel has already drawn investment interest from port operators and developers around the world. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG NEWS

HAVANA, march 30th (WJS) U.S. logistics executives who toured Cuba’s shipping facilities say the island nation has potential to be a key shipping hub for the region, but that heavy bureaucracy and poor infrastructure pose significant hurdles.

Officials from 18 logistics companies completed a trip to Cuba last Friday—coinciding with President Barack Obama’s historic visit to the island—in which they watched operations at the Port of Mariel and met with prospective partners, including ProCuba, an organization promoting foreign trade and investment in the country.

They said Cuba may be an ideal location for cross-docking, or re-sorting and distributing, cargo from large “post-panamax” ships to smaller vessels headed for U.S. ports. That could include ships from Asia with cargo bound for East Coast ports that aren’t equipped to handle the bigger ships, which can carry 14,000 or more twenty-foot-equivalent units, or TEUs, a standard measure for container cargo.

“Their location is absolutely perfect to be a hub…to push freight into northern Mexico, or all along the southern coast, and even up to our ports that don’t have that deep draft on the eastern side,” said Sue Spero, president of transportation brokerage firm Carrier Services of Tennessee Inc. Being able to get goods to market “a few days quicker is huge for us,” she said.

The logistics companies, in a trip organized by the Transportation Intermediaries Association, or TIA, joined other U.S. businesses that met with Cuban officials as the president visited the island nation.

The Obama administration viewed Mr. Obama’s trip as a critical market in its moves to normalize trade relations with Cuba after a 50-year trade embargo. Although the White House and Havana have opened the door to more travel, tourism and some business dealings, important limitations on trade in goods and services remain in place and would have to be removed by the U.S. Congress.

Members of the logistics delegation, organized by the Transportation Intermediaries Association, or TIA, said agreements such as a multimillion-dollar deal under way for Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc. to manage hotels in Havana will start a flow of goods across the Straits of Florida for the hospitality business.

American companies also are looking to export commodities, frozen foods and consumer goods to Cuba, said Robert Kemp, chief executive of Pennsylvania-based DRT Transportation LLC. “You’re talking about building a society for 12 million people that hasn’t been touched for 40 years,” he said. From construction materials to the consumer market, the possibilities are “endless,” Mr. Kemp said.

Mr. Kemp said it was clear from visits to cargo sites that Cuba needs big improvement in its transportation infrastructure. Local operators told the group that the easiest way to move freight 700 miles from one end of the island to the other is by sea, not truck or rail, he said. “The fact that it’s easier to put it on a boat tells all about the infrastructure that you need to know,” he said.

There are bureaucratic hurdles as well. Logistics companies must strike partnerships with local operators which are state-run, though a free-trade zone at the port allows investors to operate warehousing with 100% ownership, executives said.

Meanwhile, officials told the group they are keen on “preventing their cultural identity from being compromised,” said Ms. Spero, of Carrier Services. “They don’t want to seeStarbucks in the barrios of Havana.”

Still, the group found the Mariel port to have modern facilities, including the ability to handle refrigerated shipments and weigh truck entering or leaving the container terminal.

The port, which is under development by Singapore-based terminal operator PSA International, has attracted additional investment from container ship operator CMA CGM SA, which said last year it would build a logistics hub including warehousing.

havana-live-unileverHAVANA, Jan. 11th (Reuters) Global consumer products company Unilever Plc (UNc.AS)(ULVR.L) will return to Cuba after a several-year absence, agreeing on Monday to build a $35 million soap and toothpaste factory in Cuba’s special development zone at the port of Mariel west of Havana.

The Dutch-British company left Cuba in 2012 in a dispute over who would have the controlling interest in their joint venture. Now Unilever NV will have a majority 60 percent stake compared to 40 percent for the Cuban state company Intersuchel S.A.

At the time of the dispute, Cuba’s Communist government preferred the state hold a majority stake in joint ventures with foreign companies, but Cuba has become more flexible since opening the Chinese-style Mariel Special Development Zone two years ago.

The factory, due to open by 2018, will make products such as Sedal shampoo, Rexona deodorant, Omo detergent, Lux soap and Close-Up toothpaste, the company said in statement.

The signing ceremony took place during a visit to Cuba by Dutch Foreign Trade Minister Lilianne Ploumen at the head of a delegation including some 60 businesses.

The Netherlands and other European countries have expressed increased interest in the Caribbean island since Cuba reached detente with the United States just over a year ago.

Ploumen told reporters she hoped Unilever would be the first of several Dutch companies to set up shop in Cuba.

Unilever is the ninth and best-known firm to receive approval to operate at the Mariel zone, which has a modern container port.

The company was one of the first to establish a venture in Cuba once Communist authorities allowed some Western investment in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s former benefactor.

In the past two years Cuba has intensified its search for foreign investment with the Mariel zone and a 2014 law that offers tax breaks and other incentives.

mariel-portada-580x435HAVANA,  16 July (AP) — At Cuba’s new mega-port project west of Havana, shipping containers are stacked five-deep the length of its 2,300-foot (700-meter) dock alongside four massive, Chinese-built offloading cranes.

Neon-vested workers are busy laying roads and building a convention center, and trucks filled with dirt rumble over rutted roads and coat the vegetation with dust.

Not far from the Mariel container terminal, workers have finished grading a flat area the size of a football field for the first private companies to establish operations in a special economic development zone billed as a key part of the country’s effort to attract foreign investment and jumpstart a sluggish economy.

A year and a half after the port’s launch, only seven companies — five foreign and two domestic — have the green light to operate here. But with six of those approvals coming since January, officials say things are getting off the ground.

“We’re in July and we have approved almost one company per month,” Ana Teresa Igarza, director of the Special Development Zone at Mariel, said in an interview this week, when The Associated Press received access to the site. “The pace is what we expected from the beginning.”

“The first ones are the trickiest,” she added. “After they begin to invest, it’s simpler for others to do so. But there’s an exploratory phase.”

Igarza declined to say which companies are coming to Mariel, except that the foreign firms include two from Mexico, two from Belgium and one from Spain. They cover sectors including food, chemicals and logistics, represent total investment of around $50 million and are expected to launch operations in the first half of 2016.

With Mariel, Cuba is also looking ahead to when the U.S. embargo may be lifted as part of a rapprochement begun by presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro in December. Washington and Havana plan to officially restore diplomatic relations on Monday.

Igarza said visiting U.S. businesspeople also have expressed interest.

Tractor assembly company Cleber LLC of Alabama has already applied for a U.S. Treasury license with an eye toward building a plant at Mariel.

“We see this as attractive and necessary for our economy, and we told them to go ahead with preparing the documentation,” Igarza said.

Located about 30 miles (50 kilometers) from Havana, the first part of the port and planned development zone are to occupy some 11,000 acres (4,500 hectares) of bay shore and low hills.

Mariel bay is being dredged to a target depth of 59 feet (17.9 meters) to accommodate deeper-draft ships than those that can use the port of Havana, which cannot be expanded because of an automobile tunnel that traverses its mouth.

Container shipping has already been transferred from Havana to Mariel, though the capital still receives fuel tankers and grain shipments.

A new railroad line will transport cargo and workers from Havana. Not counting the construction, there are currently just 328 people working at Mariel, though officials project the development zone could ultimately create some 70,000 jobs, including manufacturing, biotech and other areas.

In selling Mariel to investors, Cuba touts its well-educated populace, low labor costs and strategic location in the Caribbean. Officials also talk of the port eventually becoming a center for transshipment activity.

“Without haste, but without pause,” said Igarza, echoing the oft-repeated mantra of Castro and other officials about the pace with which Cuba intends to implement broader economic reforms that in recent years have allowed a smidgen of free-market activity in the communist-run country.

Some observers say that speed is too slow to attract much foreign investment to Mariel.

“The timetables from those who are promoting reform along the lines of the slogan ‘without haste, but without pause,’ I think they’re inadequate,” said Arturo Lopez-Levy, a Cuban economist who teaches at New York University.

Some potential investors are skittish because of how Cuba nationalized properties following the 1959 revolution, and more recent cases of missed payments and assets seized from foreign companies accused of corruption. Several foreign businessmen were even imprisoned.

Many also may be happy to let others test development zone rules that offer tax breaks and other incentives and, Cuba says, guarantee assets and access to arbitration if disputes arise. Others are wary about entrenched bureaucracy or disapprove of the requirement that Cuban workers be hired and paid through a government-run employment agency.

But Lopez-Levy said that, at least in principle, the rules at Mariel should do much to ease concerns, such as lessening bureaucratic bottlenecks.

Mariel has the potential to be “an exporting platform at a time in which the stars seem to be aligning in a favorable way for the Cuban economy in terms of improving (relations) with the United States and the European Union,” he said.

http://www.timesleaderonline.com/page/content.detail/id/885021/Cuba–Mariel-port–economic-zone-attract-1st-foreign-firms.html?isap=1&nav=5022