Tag Archives: Export Processing Zone

U.S. APPROVES FIRST FACTORY IN CUBA SINCE 1959

MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN

HAVANA — The Associated Press

Original Article: U.S. Tractor Factory in Cuba

Globe and Mail, Toronto. Published Monday, Feb. 15, 2016 5:23PM EST

The Obama administration has approved the first U.S. factory in Cuba in more than half a century, allowing a two-man company from Alabama to build a plant assembling as many as 1,000 small tractors a year for sale to private farmers in Cuba.

The U.S. Treasury Department last week notified partners Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal that they can legally build tractors and other heavy equipment in a special economic zone started by the Cuban government to attract foreign investment.

Cuban officials already have publicly and enthusiastically endorsed the project. The partners said they expect to be building tractors in Cuba by the first quarter of 2017.

“Everybody wants to go to Cuba to sell something and that’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re looking at the problem and how do we help Cuba solve the problems that they consider are the most important problems for them to solve,” Mr. Clemmons said. “It’s our belief that in the long run we both win if we do things that are beneficial to both countries.”

The $5-million (U.S.) to $10-million plant would be the first significant U.S. business investment on Cuban soil since Fidel Castro took power in 1959 and nationalized billions of dollars of U.S. corporate and private property. That confiscation provoked a U.S. embargo on Cuba that prohibited virtually all forms of commerce and fined non-U.S. companies millions of dollars for doing business with the island country.

Farm Worker Plowing Field with a Team of OxenSome Competition for the Oxen. (Ploughing a field at Vinales)

Letting an American tractor company operate inside a Cuban government facility would have been unimaginable before Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro declared on Dec. 17, 2014, that they would restore diplomatic relations and move to normalize trade, travel and other aspects of the long-broken bilateral relationship.

Since then, Mr. Obama has been carving exceptions into the embargo through a series of executive actions, and his administration now says they allow U.S. manufacturing at the Mariel port and special economic zone about 48 kilometres west of Havana. One exception allows U.S. companies to export products that benefit private and co-operative farmers in Cuba. Mr. Berenthal and Mr. Clemmons say they will sell only to the private sector.

The Obama administration says it is eager to make the opening with Cuba irreversible by any future administration. Since the start of the year, the United States and Cuba have made a series of announcements that appear designed partly to create a sense of unstoppable momentum in their new relationship.

Cuba announced late last month that it would more than double the number of public WiFi access spots to more than 100 across the country this year and bring broadband Internet to a small number of Cuban homes, where it is currently illegal. Mr. Obama said in 2014 that Mr. Castro had promised to increase Cubans’ access to the Internet as part of détente.

On Saturday, Cuba announced it had returned a U.S. Hellfire missile it said was mistakenly shipped to Havana from Paris in 2014. On Tuesday, Cuba’s Transport Minister and the U.S. Secretary of Transportation will sign a deal authorizing the first regularly scheduled commercial flights between the United States and Cuba since shortly after the 1959 revolution.

The Oggun tractor plant, named after a god in Cuba’s syncretic Santeria religion, will assemble commercially available components into a durable and easy-to-maintain 25-horsepower tractor selling for less than $10,000, Mr. Clemmons and Mr. Berenthal said. The men believe they can sell hundreds of the tractors a year to Cuban farmers with financing from relatives outside the country and to non-government organizations seeking to help improve Cuban agriculture, which suffers from low productivity due mostly to excessive control of both basic supplies and prices by an inefficient, centrally planned state bureaucracy.

“I have two countries that for 60 years have been in the worst of terms, anything I can do to bring to the two countries and the two people together is tremendously satisfying,” said Mr. Berenthal, a Cuban-born semi-retired software engineer who left the country at age 16.

He met Mr. Clemmons, who is from Paint Rock, Ala., when they worked at IBM in the 1970s. They left to form a successful cash-register software company that grew to earn $30-million a year before they sold it in 1995 for a sum Mr. Clemmons says was “enough that I don’t have to work.”

Between their own capital and commitments from private investors, they say they have enough cash in hand to build the Oggun factory as soon as Cuba lets them proceed.

“Everything’s locked in,” Mr. Clemmons said.

Mr. Berenthal said they are optimistic they will also be able to export Oggun tractors to other Latin American countries, which have low or no tariffs on Cuba products, making them competitive on price. The men expect a 10-per-cent to 20-per-cent profit on each tractor.

For the project’s first three years, Mr. Clemmons and Mr. Berenthal say they will export components from the United States for assembly in Cuba. They hope to eventually begin manufacturing many of the parts themselves on the island. They said they expect to start with 30 Cuban employees and, if things go as planned, grow within five years to as many as 300.

Mr. Clemmons and Mr. Berenthal will publish all the schematics of their tractors online to allow Cubans and other clients to more easily repair their equipment and come up with designs for other heavy equipment based on the same frame and motor that the company, Cleber, can then produce at its Mariel factory.

The men already have plans to produce excavators, backhoes, trench diggers and forklifts, equipment badly needed across Cuba, where virtually all the infrastructure is crumbling after years of neglect and mismanagement and a lack of cash the government blames on the embargo.

“I think it’ll have a tremendous impact on their ability not only to help their economy but to set an example across the Caribbean and Latin America,” Mr. Berenthal said.

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 Case – International Harvester sugar cane harvester, made in Brazil. The next step for Cuban agricultural machinery assembly?

z Cane-Harvester-October-1993-002Cuban-manufactured Sugar Cane Harvester Pausing on the Highway, November 1994.  Was this the last Cuban-made  cane harvester?Photo by Arch Ritter.

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FINANCIAL TIMES SPECIAL REPORT ON CUBA, June 16, 2015

Financial Times, June 16, 2015

Document here: Financial Times SPECIAL REPORT on CUBA June 16 2015

Authors:

John Paul Rathbone, Latin America Editor; Geoff Dyer, US diplomatic correspondent; Richard Feinberg, Professor, UCLA San Diego; Marc Frank, Journalist based in Cuba; Cardiff Garcia, FT Alphaville reporter

obama-castroTHAW IN US RELATIONS RAISES EXPECTATIONS; Tentative signs of openness heighten hopes, but is the island ready to do business?

NEW CONNECTION DIVIDES OPINION; President Obama’s overtures play better than expected at home — although not with everyone

STRAITS DEALING BRIDGES MANY GAPS; Retailers in Florida cash in on items needed by customers across the water

GLIMMERS OF GLASNOST BEGIN TO WARM ISLAND; Government retains a firm grip, but there are signs it is loosening a little

NEW PORT ZONE HARBOURS BIG AMBITIONS; A would-be capitalist enclave in a socialist state, the Mariel project is emblematic of change

STATE EXPERIMENTS WITH CO-OPERATIVE THINKING; From garages and restaurants to dealers in exotic birds, co-ops are expanding

CUBA’S NASCENT KNOWLEGE ECONOMY; The island could capitalise on a wealth of expertise in science

US COMPANIES STILL FACE INVESTMENT HURDLES; Bureaucracy, eroded infrastructure and regulatory risk are among hurdles

GOVERNMENT LIKELY TO END TO DUAL CURRENCY; Change would be part of reforms to remove price distortins

COMPENSATION IS KEY TO FUTURE RELATIONS; What now for legal claims by those who lost property in the revolution?

OPINION: WHAT CUBA CAN LEARN FROM VIETNAM; The island has the resources and location to create a balanced economy

 There is a new entry among Cuba’s roll of important dates. Alongside Fidel Castro’s 26th of July movement and the January 1 1959 “triumph of the revolution”, there is now December 17 2014. That was the day when Barack Obama and Raúl Castro, the US and Cuban presidents, announced that they wanted to normalise bilateral relations and end more than 50 years of cold war enmity.

 To be sure, communist Cuba was already changing. After formally becoming president in 2008, Mr Castro began a tentative economic liberalisation process to boost the country’s flagging economy — especially urgent now that Venezuela’s growing crisis jeopardises the $1.5bn of aid it sends every year. But the December 17 announcement lit a bonfire of expectations among US businesses — even if Cuba’s $80bn economy, for all its exotic allure, is much the same size as the Dominican Republic’s. “There is a new sense of excitement, of US companies coming to look and thinking of starting seed businesses,” says one long-established European investor in Havana. “It makes sense. Start small, learn how the system works and then see how it all goes.”

 So, how might it all go? Continue reading:  Financial Times SPECIAL REPORT on CUBA June 16 2015

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The Mariel Special Zone: Economic Wagers and Realities

By Emilio Morales and translated by Joseph L. Scarpaci, Miami (The Havana Consulting Group). Original Essay here:  The Mariel Special Zone The November 1 opening of the Mariel Special Economic Zone (ZEDM in Spanish) by the government of Raúl Castro is part of the so-called ‘economic model updating’ that seeks to attract fresh foreign capital to Cuba.A first step is the inauguration of the ZEDM Regulatory Office to receive and evaluate investment bids. Representatives from some 1,400 firms from 64 countries will get a chance to learn more about these investment opportunities when they attend the XXXI Havana International Fair from November 3 – 9. The special zone plays a key role in driving the government’s economic reforms, which have become the top priority. After the failures of the socialist economy over some five decades, the government leadership has little choice but to restructure the economy’s strategic sectors. Nothing short of a gradual opening towards a market economy, and shrinking the public sector, are key elements in this transformation. Second Stage Reforms Reforms seem to be headed towards stage two. Recently, 70 cooperatives outside of the agricultural sector came into operation and the number of approved self-employment jobs has risen to 201. The new Mariel project follows in the path of the Duty-free Zones (Zonas Francas) launched in the 1990s, and played an important role in attracting foreign investment. It is important to remember that such investment brought Cuba out of the so-called Special Period.   However, those Duty-free Zones were eliminated in the middle of the last decade when the government of Fidel Castro did an about-face and re-centralized parts of the economy. The current investment climate is clouded with uncertainty because of the current state of the Cuban economy and the condition of its main trading partner, Venezuela. That is why this new zone, built at an estimated cost of some $900 million USD, faces a daunting start. Recalling Recent Memories Let’s take stock of what led up to this mega-project. The sole purpose of the Duty-Free Zones (ZF in Spanish) born out of Law Decree 165 in 1996 was to attract foreign investment. Operators in the ZFs were spared import tariffs on manufacturing and assembling, or on processing finished or partially-finds goods.  Cuba’s competitors back then were from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and a few Central American companies. In all, there were some 65 ZFs in the region and they produced footwear and leather goods, candy, electronic goods, plastics, and textiles. These products were largely destined to the United States, whose market has been off limits to Cuban products since 1960. The first three ZFs in Cuba appeared in 1997. The largest area was in Mariel, followed by Berroa (near the Havana port), and the smallest one, Wajay, was close to the José Martí International Airport in the southern section of the capital. Of the 243 operators in the ZF, about two-thirds were involved in trade, a fifth were in services, and 14% was in manufacturing. The latter category included the technology sector such as software, industrial projects, and machinery. Wajay had 120 operators, followed by Berroa (91) and Mariel (32). Spain (62) and Panama (43) had the largest number of companies in these duty-free zones. Foreign investment and operations in the ZFs peaked in 2002 with some 400 joint-venture and strategic alliances that brought just under $3 billion USD in investment. Starting in 2002, companies started closing in these zones and foreign investment tapered off. By 2008, only 200 firms operated there and business tapered off. New Picture (2) Three Strategic Sectors The Cuban equivalent of the U.S. Federal Register – the Gazeta Oficial No. 26 of 2013— recently stated the zones were “to promote the increase of infrastructure and activities to expand exports, import substitution, high-tech projects [and] generate new sources of jobs that contribute to the nation’s progress” (our translation).  This pronouncement marks the second time in 20 years the government has tried to implement duty-free zones, and could strengthen three strategic sectors.

  1. Depwater oil exploration and extraction to become a      crude-oil proicessing center.
  2. High-tech industrial parks for all kinds of products.
  3. Container storage and distribution center.

Explore or refine oil? This idea draws on the relative location of Cuba and the port of Mariel. Researcher Jorge Piñón points out that Mariel is strategically located at the crossroads of basins in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, where 49% of the hemisphere’s crude oil production, and 59% of its refining capability, are located. Moreover, Mariel sits at the doorstep of the world’s largest consumer and importer of oil: The United States. Considerable planning preceded the decision to commence deep-water oil exploration over the 112,000 square kilometer area of the Economic Exclusive Zone (ZEE in Spanish) just north of Cuba. But oil was not located and, in the medium run, there is just a small chance that Mariel will become a refinery center. In that scenario, there are plans to construct at the port of Mariel, 45 kilometers west of Havana, a huge warehouse center. It would also mean reviving super-tanker facilities at the port of Matanzas, the pipeline linking Matanzas and Cienfuegos (the latter, on the south-central coast), and expanding the recently upgraded oil refinery in Cienfuegos. The latter will increase daily processing from 65,000 to 150,000 barrels daily. All that depends on Venezuelan financing. Producing Goods and Services The second objective is to convince foreign investors to produce high-value goods and services in Cuba that can then be exported. To that end, the Cuban company ZDIM S.A., a subsidiary of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces holding company, GAESA, has been created. ZDEM aims to link myriad development and industrial sectors via road, rail, and high-level communication networks. The strategy entails creating maquiladoras –low-cost and skilled labor clusters—to produce high-value added goods such as appliances, computers, construction materials, exportable biotechnology products, and even automobile assembly.  A canning and packaging industry is also expected to support the Cuban domestic and export markets. Even though foreign companies operating in these zones will be exempt from salary and wage taxes, free of taxes on earnings for 10 years, as well other incentives, these measures are insufficient because they rely on traditional barriers of contracting labor through a government agency. Licensure to operate in the zone still relies on government agencies, and therein is the danger of a cumbersome and highly bureaucratic approval process for investors. The Container Business A third objective is a modern facility for dispatching and warehousing maritime and truck containers. Mariel would receive cargo ships that presently operate out of the aged and inefficient port of Havana. In turn, the capital city’s port would house cruise ship and recreational boating and sailing. Ambitious port expansion plans at Mariel are undoubtedly linked to the renovated Panama Canal, which will be completed in 2015. All this bodes well for maritime traffic throughout the Caribbean, which is poised to do substantial business with the break-in-bulk activities related to the gigantic ships known as Post Panamax.  PSA International from Singapore will administer Mariel’s facility and will become the main port for Cuban imports and exports. A 2,000-meter long dock will be able to handle deep-water vessels and up to 3 million containers annually. The initial stage will develop the first 700 meters of berths and a storage capacity of 1 million containers per year. By 2014, it should be able to receive cargo ships bound for ports elsewhere in the Caribbean and the Americas. Installations include warehouses, could storage, fuel storage tanks, food distribution facilities, and other services. A highway and rail network will connect this, potentially the most important port in Cuba, with existing networks to guarantee the flow of goods. From Dream to Reality In theory, the Mariel project can only be viable over the long term. In the short term, however, it faces serious obstacles. First, ZEDM faces competition from similar installations in Panama, Jamaica, and elsewhere in the Caribbean basin and Central America. That competition is already tried and tested and operates with competitive prices. Significantly, they are in a better position to develop trade with the main market in the region: the USA. The Cuban project will be constrained by the U.S. trade embargo that prohibits ships that visit any Cuban port from entering U.S. territorial waters within six months.  Accordingly, the zone’s reliance on large foreign investment will require those foreign businesses to stay on the island for a long time to recover their costs and turn a profit, and those investors will also be constrained by the embargo regulations. It is difficult to forecast the long-term investment successes in this first stage because of these risk factors. Instead, medium-term investments from Cuba’s main business partners –China, Brazil and Venezuela—are more likely.  The zone’s development will require more flexible and open laws than the ones just launched. That means a new Foreign Investment Law, which was announced by Raúl Castro at the beginning of the year, but was inexplicably postponed until this week. Novel amendments to the existing legislation might allow for the Cuban exile community to invest or to exert pressure on the U.S. congress to lift the embargo. But let’s not deceive ourselves: The ZEDM has been conceived and designed all along with an eye on U.S. business investment. That is the same motivation behind Brazilian wagers and is the bait that will attract other investors.  Havana in November 2013 has become a mid-summer night’s dream.

New-Picture-3

 Mariel

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CAN CUBA RE-INDUSTRIALIZE?

By Arch Ritter, October 5, 2013

 Since 1989, and similar to the United States and Canada among other countries, Cuba has experienced a serious de-industrialization from which it has not recovered. The consequences of this are grave, including job and income loss, the loss of an important part of its economic base and rust-belt style urban decay. Cuba risks becoming a typical small Caribbean Island, exporting services and some resources, while importing almost all manufactures.[i]

New PictureThe causes of the collapse are complex and multi-dimensional. They were outlined in an earlier article available here:   Can Cuba Recover from its De-Industrialization? I. Characteristics and Causes.  In summary, the causes include:

  •   The ending of the subsidization from the Soviet Union resulting in an incapacitation of the manufacturing sector;
  •  The antiquated and uncompetitive technological inheritance from the Soviet era;
  •   Maintenance and re-investment was de-emphasized before 1989 and collapsed thereafter;
  •   Low investment levels. [Investment was 10.5% of GDP in 2008 in comparison with 20.6% for all of Latin America, according to UN ECLA];
  •  The dual monetary and exchange rate systems penalize traditional and potential new exporters that have received Moneda Nacional pesos at a rate of  CuP 1 = $US 1.00 from exports – while the relevant rate for Cuban citizens is 26 CuP = $US1.00;
  •   The prohibition of most small and medium enterprise for the last 50 years has blocked entrepreneurial trial and error and the emergence of new manufacturing activities;
  • Effective competition from Chinese manufactures imports, stimulated further by China’s undervalued exchange rate and Cuba’s over-valued exchange rate.

The accompanying chart illustrates the changes that have occurred Cuban manufacturing and some of its subsectors. Total manufacturing output excluding sugar in 2011 was 48.8% below the level of 1989 in terms of physical volumes. Many sectors experienced reductions in the 50% to 99% range. The exceptional success was pharmaceutical production which increased by 765% from 1989 to 2009, albeit from a low base.

What are the longer term consequences of “de-industrialization”?  Is it likely that the policy proposals of the Lineamientos approved at the VI Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba will lead to a recovery from this collapse? What can be done to reverse this situation?

 I.                   CONSEQUENCES OF THE COLLAPSE OF CUBA’S MANUFACTURING SECTOR

The consequences of the shrinkage of the manufacturing sector are serious. First, employment in the sector (including sugar) declined from 685,500 in 1989 to 530,800 in 2009 or to 77.4% of the 1989 level, a reduction of 32.6%. (ONE AEC, 2011 Table 7.3)

Second, labor productivity in manufacturing has fallen.  The volume of output has diminished more rapidly than employment. The 2009 level of output in the manufacturing sector (including sugar) was 44.9% of the 1989 level (a decline of 55.1%) but employment declined by 32,6%.  This means that labor productivity in manufacturing has also probably declined from 1989 to 2009, though this cannot be known for sure without knowing the values as well as the volumes of production in these years. 

Third, the importation of manufactures has risen sharply. Virtually all the shoes, clothing, textiles, household gadgetry and a lot of furniture are now imported. Indeed, one can purchase most plumbing supplies, electrical materials, dishes, pots and pans, household gadgetry and furnishings only for “Convertible Pesos” rather than the Moneda Nacional that people actually earn.

Paradoxically, visits to the various Tiendas por la Recaudacion de Divisas (TRDs or former dollar stores) which are the main source of household equipment and gadgetry, furnishings, clothing, foot-ware, plumbing materials, electrical items etc. is similar in one sense to visits to the major Big Box stores such as Walmart or Target in that the vast majority of the items for sale are imported from China. Walmart, Home Depot, Target and their ilk, make their mammoth purchases from China for all their stores in the country, obtaining massive economies of scale and quantity discounts. Has the China-Walmart Alliance helped to de-industrialized the United States?

One wonders if the procurement patterns for the large state store chains in Cuba are not unlike those of Walmart, pictured below. Does CIMEX, the major retailing conglomerate in Cuba make its purchases in the same way, providing for all its outlets in Cuba with single orders?  Is a CIMEX-China Alliance in Cuba echoing the China-Walmart Alliance in the United States and having similar results in avoiding smaller scale procurement purchases from Cuba or other countries?

Picture1The World According to Walmart’s Procurement Purchases

(One wonders if CIMEX procurement would be somewhat similar.)

A fourth result of Cuba’s de-industrialization is that it has lost much of the foundation on which diversified manufacturing activities could be developed in future. For example, Cuba has essentially lost the “clusters” of economic activities that once surrounded the sugar sector specifically and agriculture generally producing inputs and processing outputs.  Parts of the sugar-related manufacturing sector have largely shut down – notably the manufacture of cane harvesters and agricultural machinery and equipment as well as the production of replacement parts for the sugar mills. As illustrated in Chart 1, the production of machinery and equipment is at 0.4% of the 1989 level while that for metal fabrication is at 32.8%.

This situation prevails in many other areas of manufacturing as well. A glance at the Chart indicates the magnitudes of the collapse.

Fifth, the potential for the emergence of manufacturing for export markets has been impaired. It will be difficult to reconstruct the manufacturing activities for which Cuba might have been able to develop some comparative advantages.

 

II.                THE “LINEAMIENTOS” ON THE MANUFACTURING SECTOR.

The Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución,” approved on April 18, 2011 by the VI Party Congress include 25 guidelines on Industry. (Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución.) Some of the guidelines are of obvious significance and would be of great usefulness if they can be implemented. These include

  •  “prioritizing” exports (Guideline No. 215) and maintenance  (220),
  • assuring inputs for the self-employment and cooperative sectors (217),
  •   emphasizing technical training ((132 and 138)
  •  the rationalization and restructuring of industrial capacity, including the sales, rental or usufruct of unused facilities to the self-employed (219).

Some specific industrial sectors are slated for emphasis, including pharmaceuticals (221(, nickel (224), natural medicines and dietary supplements (222) , information technology and electronics for export (226), fertilizers (230), rubber tires (231), construction materials (233), and metallurgy and machinery and equipment (234 236 and 237). Some of these seem reasonable and may have important roles to play in future manufacturing.

Elsewhere in the “Lineamientos” exchange rate and pricing considerations are mentioned, with the stated intention to move to a unified and realistic exchange rate but with no implementation as of September 2013.   

Liberalizing small enterprise and promoting larger co-operative forms of organization are now in process of implementation. For these two sectors, pricing is for the most part to be determined by the forces of supply and demand.  This may be an important step in permitting the emergence of new innovative enterprises. However, the continuing limits on size and professional activities impede the evolution of a diversified range of medium scale enterprise in higher tech manufacturing and related services.

If indeed the proposals of the “Lineamientos” were implemented fully and quickly, one could envisage the possibility of a turn-around for the manufacturing sector. So far, however, reforms in these areas have been cautious limited and slow.

III.             SOME POSSIBILITIES

 What might be the successful manufacturing sub-sectors in future? This section briefly considers some possibilities.

It is of course hard if not impossible to “pick the winners” in advance.  The most efficacious general approach for Cuba would be to establish a reasonable policy and institutional framework and let the winners emerge over time.  This would include such policies as unifying the monetary and exchange rate systems, liberalizing small and medium enterprise further, establishing a secure property rights system, consolidating the framework for the impartial rule of law towards enterprises, and a fair taxation system for Cuban-owned private sector enterprises, etc. (See  The Tax Regimen for the Mariel Export Processing Zone.regarding the unfairness of the tax system as regards Cuban-owned micro-enterprises.) Cuba is in the process of implementation in some of these areas though it still has a distance to go.

However, assuming that Cuba does establish an “enabling environment” for the emergence of a manufacturing sector, what might be the manufacturing opportunities for Cuba? This section tries to make a first sketch of Cuba’s main manufacturing sub-sectors and their future potential.

 

A.    Traditional Agro-Industries: Sugar, Tobacco and Rum.

The volumes of output in the sugar agro-industrial sector fell from 7 to 8 million metric tons of sugar per year in the 1980s to 1.8 million for the 2013 harvest. Perhaps the sector, focusing also on bio-fuels, can be reconstructed although now this would have to be almost from the ground up. Foreign – that is, Brazilian – technology, investible resources, managerial talent and entrepreneurship would be vital in this endeavor. But the old dysfunctional state enterprise model seems so entrenched that only successful implementation of dramatic institutional change as well as massive investment can bring it about.

Cuba has a major comparative advantage in cigars and a thriving agricultural and manufacturing base for future expansion. Market prospects are mixed but modestly positive on balance. The market for cigars in the high income countries may weaken in future as the baby boomers age further and become more concerned about their health. The cigar fad of the 1990s is unlikely to return in those countries with the same intensity.

On the other hand, cigars may become a status symbol for the males of the burgeoning middle classes of the emerging middle income countries of Latin America and Asia. Normalization of relations with the US will also increase demand.  

Conclusion?  Continue to promote this sector.  Also a suggestion: produce for export high quality but machine-made cigars at prices that are more affordable for a broader market. Cuba has priced itself out of the middle class cigar market.

The market for rum and alcoholic beverages has been strong.  Its future should also be positive again due to increasing demand in emerging countries and the United States after normalization.

 

B.     Food Processing

Cuba should have great potential in processing agricultural products. However, this depends on a thriving agricultural sector providing the raw materials. Unfortunately agriculture has been in steady decline especially since 1990. Some past exports such as citrus fruit have fallen out of the picture.

Cuba could have significant production for export markets of citrus products, tropical fruits, vegetables, and beverages. This would require major expansion of food production and is thus a longer-term possibility at this time. However, a a diversified range of agro-industrial possibilities could be considered, e.g. mango cultivation and juicing for export markets. [ii]

 

C.    Pharmaceuticals.

This sector has been dramatically successful since 1989, and has become a major export exporter to a growing range of countries. (See the accompanying chart.) This success should continue into the future.

However there are some downside risks. First, new drugs must continuously be developed because generic versions of existing drugs can be produced freely anywhere (read India and China) when patent protection runs out – if not before. This means that Cuba’s producers, like big pharmaceutical companies, face future death unless they innovate successfully. Second, some of the markets for Cuba’s pharmaceuticals are a type of ideological “sweet-heart” deal, e.g. purchases by Venezuela. These may be at risk in the longer term when the Cuba-Venezuela “special relationship” runs its course.

New Picture (2) 

D.    Light Manufactures

Some of the economic activities that have declined most seriously – from 70% to 90% in different cases – are footwear, textiles, clothing, and consumer products of leather, wood, paper, metal, rubber and plastic for household use (See Chart 1.) This seems tragic when one considers that even in the 1940’s, Cuba was a major producer of a range of products such as leather and rubber shoes, cotton and rayon textiles, rubber tires, soap, paint, clothing etc. (IBRD, Report on Cuba 1950, p.130.)  The collapse of much of Cuba’s light industry is of course paralleled by its corresponding collapse in Canada and the United States, with the resultant job-loss and urban decay in the rust-belt.

 It would be difficult for Cuba to reclaim many of these areas, given the incredible economies of scale and agglomerative economies that big countries such as China, India, and other Asian countries experience.

 

One can imagine niche-type markets for which Cuba could have success. For example, the manufacture of some lines of specialty women’s clothing, leather footwear, and Spanish-colonial style furniture might be possibilities. Already one sees surprising crafts-level innovation in a myriad of areas, focusing on hard-currency tourist markets. These provide some hope that middle-sized enterprises could emerge and develop new products for Cuban and foreign markets.

But for this to happen there would have to be the possibility that micro-enterprises could evolve into small and medium scale firms. This is still blocked – with the exception of cooperative forms of enterprises.

 

E.     Chemical and Petrochemical Products.

If Cuba emerges as a significant petroleum producer or refiner of petroleum imports, it is possible that it may develop a range of petrochemical products for national and regional markets. Some production and exports are likely to emerge from the new refinery complex in Cienfuegos. However, the competition in the region from established producers in the region such as the US gulf coast, Mexico, Trinidad and Venezuela is serious so the possibilities here seem limited.

Could the production or “mixing” of fertilizers – from imported potash, phosphates and nitrogen – be revived? Perhaps, though Cuba has no particular advantage in this area.

 

F.     Heavy Industry and Capital Goods Production

Heavy industry such as an iron and steel complex, metal fabrication, wire and tube making is unlikely to emerge in a significant way in Cuba due to lack of cheap energy sources at this time, the absence of relevant raw materials, absence of significant metal using industries within Cuba, the small domestic market vis-à-vis efficient scales of production, absence of relevant skills etc. This situation could change in future if low-cost sources of energy from off-shore petroleum were to be developed.

 

H.    Machinery and Equipment

Cuba has produced some agricultural transport equipment, namely cane carts, since early colonial times. More recently, it produced heavy can harvesters such as the one in the adjoining photograph.

At this time, Cuba has lost the agricultural foundation for the production of machinery and equipment for the agricultural sector, though there may be some niches where possibilities exist. Brazil seems likely to capture much of this market. There may be some niche products that could emerge however.

Chances for Cuba of capturing automotive parts, batteries, rubber tires etc. seem slim and assembly is out of the question given the lack of the relevant cluster of economic activities on which these would be based and the great economies of scale in established producers elsewhere.   

 

I.        Electric and Electronic Equipment

The assembly of some electric or electronic products occurs now in a minor way and could perhaps be expanded. However, virtually all of the components would have to be imported so that domestic value added would be limited. Again, competition from abroad, notably from China will be difficult to overcome due to its huge advantages noted earlier.

 

J.      The Mariel Export Processing Zone

The Mariel EPZ creates some new possibilities for Cuba. It is possible that China (being wooed by Cuba with a “Mariel mission” visiting that country in September 2013), Brazil and possibly other countries establish assembly, light fabrication or bulk-breaking activities in the EPZ. This is certainly the purpose of the highly generous tax treatment provided to foreign investors, namely a “Zero” profits tax rate for 10 years with presumably full expatriation of profits and a rate of 12.5% after 10 years. (See The Tax Regimen for the Mariel Export Processing Zone.)

 

IV.             CONCLUSION

To revive Cuba’s manufacturing sector will be difficult. The loss of so much industrial capacity over the last quarter Century has weakened the foundation on which such a recovery could be based. There are a few promising sectors, most notably pharmaceuticals, food products, and some niche fabrication activities. But other most sub-sectors appear generally to be un-promising. Perhaps the Mariel Export Processing Zone will have some beneficial impacts.

What is most needed is the establishment of an “enabling environment” of company law, liberalization of small and medium enterprise, a reasonable tax regimen for Cuban private sector enterprises and of the monetary and exchange rate systems. Some of this was recognized in the “Lineamientos.” But there is still some distance to go.

Cane Harvester October 1993 002Cuban-Manufactured Cane-Harvester Pausing on the Highway, November 1994; Photo by Arch Ritter. Was thuis the last Cuban-made Harvester?


[i] The industrial sector has not yet been examined as in as much depth as some other economic areas such as agriculture. However, analysts at the Centro de Estudios sobre la Economia Cubana (CEEC) in Havana, notably Ricardo Torres Perez, have been turning their attention to this area.

[ii] For example, Canada imports growing volumes of several varieties of mango juice from the Republic of South Africa. Cuba could share in such markets. Again, normalization with the United States in time will be of benefit in providing a large near-by market.

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The Tax Regimen for the Mariel Export Processing Zone: More Tax Discrimination against Cuban Micro-enterprises and Citizens?

 By Arch Ritter

The Mariel Export Processing Zone (EPZ) is the second attempt since May 1997[i] to set up an EPZ that will promote foreign investment and thereby generate jobs, income, domestic value added and foreign exchange earnings for Cuba. This new container port facility and industrial park will free Havana Harbor for restoration and regeneration ultimately for recreational rather than industrial purposes. One might expect that Brazilian and Chinese enterprises – private and state-owned- will seize the opportunity to operate in Mariel vigorously with an eye for exports or re-exports to the Caribbean region.

The regulation and tax regimes for the Mariel EPZ were announced on September 23, 2013 (Marc Frank, Reuters, September 24 2013). The tax regime for the foreign firms operating in the Mariel EPZ is generous. It includes:

  •    a ten-year holiday from paying a tax on profits  and
  • presumably the full ex-patriation of profits;
  •   a 12% tax rate after 10 years;
  • the normal Cuban income tax rate for foreign workers
  •   a 14% (of wage) payment for workers’ social security;
  • zero tax on imported equipment; low duties on imported materials; and
  •  0.5% for EPZ maintenance.

These provisions should provide a strong incentive for foreign firms to locate in the EPZ. On the other hand, this tax regime in itself will not generate a huge amount of foreign exchange revenues for the Cuban Government.

The down-side of the tax regime for foreign investors and the major earner of foreign exchange for the government will be the hidden taxation involved in the hiring of labor. EPZ enterprises, like those in joint enterprises will have to pay hard currency to a state company to cover the wages and salaries of Cuban workers at a rate around $US 1.00 = 1 peso (CuP in Moneda Nacional) while the rate that is relevant for Cuban citizens is $US 1.00 = 26 pesos (CuP). The government can then sell the hard currency (“convertible pesos” or CuCs) at the rate of 1CuC = 26 CuP, meaning a profit on each CuC of 25 CuPs. This profit to the government is in effect a 96% tax rate (1 – 25/26 = 0.038) .  This counterbalances to some extent the generosity of the rest of the tax regime for the EPZ firms.

In the words of Marc Frank:

“However, one of the main complaints of foreign investors in Cuba has not changed: that they must hire and fire through a state-run labor company which pays employees in near worthless pesos while investors pay the company in hard currency. Investors complain they have little control over their labor force and must find ways to stimulate their workers, who often receive the equivalent of around $20 a month for services that the labor company charges up to twenty times more for.” Frank, Reuters, September 23, 2013

 EPZ enterprises also would prefer to operate with a reasonable and realistic exchange rate and the power to hire labor directly rather than to go through the state labor company.

The accompanying table compares the tax regimes for micro-enterprise, foreign firms in joint enterprises and EPZ enterprises. While the reforms of the micro-enterprise tax regime in 2010-2011 reduced the discrimination favoring foreign enterprises, but did so only slightly. For foreign firms the tax base is total revenues minus all costs of production and investment. In contrast, for micro-enterprises the tax base is total revenue minus arbitrary and limited maximum allowable levels of input costs ranging from 10 to 40 percent depending on the activity, and regardless of true production costs. As a result, for Cuban micro-enterprises the effective tax rate can be very high and could exceed 100% while the effective tax rate for foreign enterprises is exceedingly low. Moreover, investment costs are deductible from future income streams for foreign firms, this being the normal international convention. But for Cuban micro-enterprise, investment costs are deductible only within the 10 to 40% allowable cost deduction levels for the current year. 

The highest tax rate or bracket for domestic micro-enterprises is 50% while that for foreign firms in joint-enterprises is 30% generally but 50 % for mining (namely for Sherritt International). The Mariel EPZ rate is 0.0% for 10 years and 12% thereafter.

The EPZ firms can import equipment and materials at 0.0% import duty. For many imported inputs required for micro-enterprises, the sales tax they pay in the “convertible currency” stores is 140%, though wholesale markets are to appear before long providing imported inputs at prices that may be a good deal lower.

All in all, the differential tax regimes represent a surprising type of discrimination against Cuban citizens and in favor of the foreign firms in joint enterprises or the Mariel EPZ. The tax system permits very low taxes for the foreign owners of enterprises investing in the EPZ. IN contrast, Cuban micro-enterprises face a daunting tax regime.

From the perspective of Cuba’s national interest, the tax regime has another weakness. This is the heavy but hidden taxation on the payment of labor in the EPZ. The effective 96% tax operating through the dual exchange rate system does generate revenue for the Government. However, by making labor relatively expensive for the EPZ firms, it will provide a disincentive to job creation in the EPZs. This is a central objective of Cuban economic policy at this time as it tries to absorb up to 1 million workers that it considers to be redundant in the state sector of the economy.

Moreover, while the wage compensation to Cuban workers is pitifully low under the dual exchange rate system, the cost to employers is high. Under the wage payment systems of the previous EPZs, illustrated in the Table 2 below, the wage costs to employers were well above neighboring countries in the Caribbean region. This may well persist under the tax arrangements for the new Mariel EPZ.

[i]Three EPZs were established in 1997 at Mariel, Berroa, some ten kilometers from the port of Havana  and Wajay by the airport outside Havana. Their performance was mediocre; hence the new approach for a “Super-EPZ” at new container port at Mariel.

Table 2.Source: Larry Willmore, Export processing Zones in Cuba, in A. Ritter (editor). The Cuban Economy. University of Pittsburgh Press 2004.

 

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Cuba bids to lure foreign investment with new port and trade zone

By Marc Frank

Original Article Here:   Mariel

Mariel Harbor

HAVANA, Sept 23 (Reuters) – Cuba published rules and regulations on Monday governing its first special development zone, touting new port facilities in Mariel Bay in a bid to attract investors and take advantage of a renovated Panama Canal.

The decree establishing the zone and related rules takes effect on Nov. 1 and includes significant tax and customs breaks for foreign and Cuban companies while maintaining restrictive policies, including for labor.

Cuba hopes the zone, and others it plans for the future, will “increase exports, the effective substitution of imports, (spur) high-technology and local development projects, as well as contribute to the creation of new jobs,” according to reform plans issued by the ruling Communist Party in 2011.

The plan spoke positively of foreign investment, promised a review of the cumbersome approval process and said special economic zones, joint venture golf courses, marinas and new manufacturing projects were planned. Most experts believe large flows of direct investment will be needed for development and to create jobs if the government follows through with plans to lay off up to a million workers in an attempt to lift the country out of its economic malaise.

The Mariel special development zone covers 180 square miles (466 square km) west of Havana and is centered around a new container terminal under construction in Mariel Bay, 28 miles (45 km) from the Cuban capital.

The zone will be administered by a new state entity under the Council of Ministers, and investors will be given up to 50-year contracts, compared with the current 25 years, with the possibility of renewal. They can have up to 100 percent ownership during the contract, according to Cuba’s foreign investment law.

Investors will be charged virtually no labor or local taxes and will be granted a 10-year reprieve from paying a 12 percent tax on profits. They will, however, pay a 14 percent social security tax, a 1 percent sales or service tax for local transactions, and 0.5 percent of income to a zone maintenance and development fund.

Foreign managers and technicians will be subject to local income taxes. All equipment and materials brought in to set up shop will be duty free, with low import and export rates for material brought in to produce for export.

However, one of the main complaints of foreign investors in Cuba has not changed: that they must hire and fire through a state-run labor company which pays employees in near worthless pesos while investors pay the company in hard currency.

Investors complain they have little control over their labor force and must find ways to stimulate their workers, who often receive the equivalent of around $20 a month for services that the labor company charges up to twenty times more for.

And investors will still face a complicated approval policy, tough supervision, and conflict resolution through Cuban entities unless stipulated otherwise in their contracts. And they must be insured through Cuban state companies.

MARIEL PORT

The Mariel container terminal and logistical rail and highway support, a $900 million project, is largely being financed by Brazil and built in conjunction with Brazil’s Grupo Odebrecht SA. The container facility will be operated by Singaporean port operator PSA International Pte Ltd. The terminal is scheduled to open in January.

Future plans call for increasing the terminal’s capacity, developing light manufacturing, storage and other facilities near the port, and building hotels, golf courses and condominiums in the broader area that runs along the northern coast and 30 miles (48 km) inland.

Mariel Bay is one of Cuba’s finest along the northern coast, and the port is destined to replace Havana, the country’s main port, over the coming years. The Mariel terminal, which will have an initial 765 yards (700 meters) of berth, is ideally situated to handle U.S. cargo if the American trade embargo is eventually lifted, and will receive U.S. food exports already flowing into the country under a 2000 amendment to sanctions.

Plans through 2022 call for Mariel to house logistics facilities for offshore oil exploration and development, the container terminal, general cargo and bulk foods facilities. Mariel Port will handle vessels with up drafts up to 49 feet (15 meters) compared with 36 feet (11 meters) at Havana Bay due to a tunnel under the channel leading into the Cuban capital’s port.

The terminal will have an initial capacity of 850,000 to 1 million containers, compared with Havana’s 350,000.

Leaving Mariel, April 1980

April 23, 1980: Arriving in Key West  on the shrimp boat Big Babe.

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