Cuba invites companies to talk about doing business

April 9, 2015, 10:30 PM UTC
APTOPIX Cuba Classic Cars Photo Gallery
In this Oct. 15, 2014 photo, a man drives a classic American car on The Malecon in Havana, Cuba. This classic still running on the streets of Havana is part of a fleet of classic cars that have become an icon of tourism in the socialist nation. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)
Photograph by Franklin Reyes — AP

(Reuters) – Cuba’s economy needs foreign capital to diversify, the island’s foreign trade minister said on Thursday, as he made an unusually open invitation to North and South American companies to talk to the Communist government about doing business there.

Business interest in Cuba has boomed since the historic announcement on Dec. 17, when U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro said they would restore diplomatic relations and seek to end more than five decades of hostility.

“We recognize the importance of international insertion into our economy to diversify our foreign trade, increase access to foreign financing and increasing the participation of foreign capital in the Cuban economy,” Rodrigo Malmierca told a meeting of business leaders from across the Americas who met in Panama on Thursday.

“We are convinced the countries of the region will accompany Cuba in these endeavors.”

Cuba typically is more reserved about recruiting foreign investors and operates behind the scenes with companies that have good enough connections to schedule meetings with government officials.

Whether large numbers of investors truly find open doors in Cuba remains to be seen, but the gesture should be welcomed by companies looking to crack the Cuban market.

Cuba is still cut off from U.S. investment by a comprehensive trade embargo. Obama, a Democrat, has asked the Republican-controlled Congress to work toward dismantling the embargo, which had been a pillar of foreign policy for nine previous presidents.

Malmierca spoke a day ahead of the Summit of the Americas bringing together leaders of the region, including Obama and Castro, who will meet in person for the first time since a brief handshake at Nelson Mandela’s funeral in December 2013.

Cuba approved a new foreign investment law a year ago that aims to bring badly needed capital to the communist economy by offering steep tax cuts and promising a climate of investment security.

Areas such as agriculture, infrastructure, sugar, nickel mining, building renovation and real estate development are considered ripe for investment.

Malmierca reiterated Cuba wants $2.5 billion in foreign direct investment. Cuba does not publish figures on FDI, which economists estimate to be several hundred million dollars a year at most.