Cuban firms head to Shanghai import expo to boost trade with China

by Raimundo Urrechaga

HAVANA, Nov. 2 (Xinhua) — Cuban companies set to participate in the upcoming China International Import Expo (CIIE) said the event is a unique opportunity to boost Cuban goods and services in the Chinese market.

Executives in sectors like agriculture, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medical services, IT, telecommunications and education told Xinhua that they hope to meet potential business partners at the CIIE to expand exports to the Asian country.

China is the fastest growing market for Habanos S.A., a 50-50 joint venture between the Cuban government and a British tobacco company that markets Cuban tobacco products around the world, said Ernesto Gonzalez, director of operational marketing, adding that sales of Cuban premium cigars in China jumped 33 percent year-on-year in 2017.

The sales surge is largely due to an agreement signed in July 2017 between Habanos S.A. and the China National Tobacco Corporation to increase sales and work together to inform consumers about the world-famous cigars.

In 2019, Habanos S.A. plans to export a premium cigar made specially for the Chinese market, a high priority for the company, said Gonzalez.

Cuba’s premium hand-rolled cigars were introduced to the Chinese market a decade ago and their sales still have much room to grow today.

At the CIIE, “we are going to try to forge new partnerships to expand our sales,” said Gonzalez. “We still have a lot of potential in the Chinese market, and we must continue to strive so consumers know about our brands and cigar culture.”

Rums are also among major Cuban exports. Cuba Ron S.A., a rum producer in Cuba, began selling its main brands in Beijing and Shanghai two years ago.

Cuba Ron S.A. annually exports around 144,000 bottles of eight different brands to China, and the potential for the figure to increase is “immense,” said Jorge Cardoso, export director.

Medical services and biotechnology are another two strong exports.

“We want to hold a series of meetings … to have the opportunity to share and expand our current (trade) cooperation with China,” said Ismary Nunez, director of communications at BioCubaFarma, a Cuban state company for pharmaceutical and biotechnology products.

BioCubaFarma wants to further consolidate ties with China, where it has three joint ventures. At the CIIE, the company will present important research and development in therapies to treat ailments with high incidence rates in China, such as certain cancers and cardiovascular diseases.

Health and medical fields too boast “a lot of potential” for cooperation, said Victor Tamayo, vice president of business operations at Cuban Medical Services Distributor.

“We are going to Shanghai with the hopes of continuing to deepen our ties with the Chinese market,” said Tamayo. “Not just to offer patient care in Cuba, but our highly-skilled doctors and professionals can also provide medical attention to Chinese people in their places of origin.”

Representatives from 34 companies will participate in a China-Cuba Business Forum on Nov. 8 to discuss topics like foreign investment, tourism, culture and health, and promote bilateral cooperation.

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