Unilever returns to Cuba in joint venture

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.