Cuba eyes more foreign investment in agriculture

Campaign News | Thursday, 20 December 2007

By Marc Frank

HAVANA, Dec 20 (Reuters) - Cuba may accept more foreign investment in agriculture to try to reduce food imports and revive state lands that have fallen into disuse, an official at the Foreign Investment and Cooperation Ministry told Reuters on Thursday.

"We are analyzing how to increase investment in the sector with the goal of substituting imports," said Anaiza Rodriguez, director of the Department of Investment Project Evaluation and Management.

Acting Cuban President Raul Castro said in July the state of the state-dominated sector was unacceptable. Up to 50 percent of arable land lays fallow even as the cash-strapped country imports some $2 billion in food products a year.

Raul Castro, who temporarily took over for his ailing older brother Fidel Castro 16 months ago, said in July that agriculture should be restructured and new concepts applied but he did not elaborate.

Raul Castro then called for more foreign investment in the country.

Communist-run Cuba has been reluctant to open agriculture up to foreign investment. There is just one venture in the sector, to grow rice with Vietnam, according to the ministry.

Rodriguez said Cuba was involved in a total of 233 joint ventures.

"This is a different moment," Rodriguez said when asked if policy was changing and agriculture would become more investor friendly.

"Food is our biggest import and we have to produce it here," she said, pointing to Raul Castro's July speech.

Cuba imports hundreds of thousands of tons of rice, soy products, wheat, corn and other bulk foods annually, around 25 percent from the United States under a 2000 amendment to the trade embargo that allows agricultural sales for cash.

Rodriguez said the ministry was looking at proposals from Argentina, Venezuela and other Latin American as well as European countries to grow soy and other grains and cereals in Cuba, but would not say when agreements might be signed.

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