Cuba says foreign trade down 36 percent in 2009

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba opened its annual international trade fair on Monday with the news its foreign trade was down 36 percent this year as the communist-ruled island battles the effects of the global economic recession.

Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment Rodrigo Malmierca told diplomats and business people at the ExpoCuba exhibition center in suburban Havana that most of the decline was due to decreased imports, reflecting Cuba’s attempts to tighten its financial belt.

“Statistics show that at the close of the third quarter of 2009, the trade of goods was down 36 percent in relation to the same period the year before,” he said.

Total trade for the first nine months was “around $10 billion,” Malmierca said.

Cuba’s economy has been battered by the global recession, damaging hurricanes in late 2008 and productivity problems that President Raul Castro is trying to fix by cutting government handouts and giving financial incentives for harder work.

Cuba’s trade deficit soared to $11.4 billion in 2008 as rising import costs and lower prices for Cuban exports depleted cash reserves.

In response, Cuba took several measures, including stopping payments to many foreign suppliers. Malmierca said Cuba planned to pay up eventually.

“I can assure you that we have the greatest willingness for dialogue with our economic partners and that Cuba will continue to be a reliable partner,” he said.

The Cuban government said 54 countries were participating in the fair, with large, prominent pavilions filled by allies such as Venezuela, China and Brazil.

Far in the back of the sprawling exposition center were booths for about 35 U.S. businesses and organizations that included delegations from states including Alabama, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland.

The Americans said they looked forward to the day the United States and Cuba, just 90 miles apart but ideological foes since Cuba’s 1959 revolution, resume normal trading relations.

The United States has had a trade embargo against Cuba for 47 years, but sales of agricultural products and medicine are allowed.

“This is not just about business,” said Paul Johnson, president of Chicago Foods International. “I want to help bridge the gap between the United States and Cuba.”

“People who want to normalize trade feel like our embargo is hypocritical,” said Terry Coleman, Georgia’s deputy agricultural commissioner.

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One Response to Cuba says foreign trade down 36 percent in 2009

  1. Pingback: Cuba says foreign trade down 36 percent in 2009 | Cuba today

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