Big business delegation from France visits Cuba

News from Cuba | Wednesday, 7 March 2012

from the Cuban Standard

Following a visit by Foreign Trade Secretary Pierre Lellouche in November, a business delegation that included executives of 17 French corporations spent three days in Havana March 5-7, to scout for investments.

The companies in the delegation are looking for opportunities in energy, transport, telecommunications and agribusiness, according to a press release by the French embassy in Havana. Lellouche said in November that he expected French investments in Cuba to rise from euro 150 million (US$201 million) in 2011 to euro 250 million ($335 million) in 2012.

“Even though the U.S. embargo still weighs on the activities of the country, the improvement of the economic situation since 2009 ? grants some flexibility to the Cuban authorities to pursue the actualization of the economic model and the ministerial reorganization following the Communist Party Congress in April 2011,” the Mouvement des Entreprises de France (Medef) said in an invitation letter to delegation participants.

The delegation was headed by Pierre Pringuet, CEO of Pernod Ricard SA. The Paris-based liquor giant is the foreign partner in the Havana Club rum joint venture. The group met, among others, with Deputy Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodríguez.

This was the second Medef delegation to visit Cuba since 2008.

Lellouche was the highest-ranking French official to visit Cuba in nine years. France suspended bilateral government cooperation in 2003, after Cuba imprisoned 75 people in a crackdown. In December 2010, barely a week after Cuba announced it had freed all of the 75, France and Cuba signed a “declaration on the resumption of cooperation.”

Politics aside, the main stumbling block is Cuba’s debt and its falling behind on payments to French government agency Coface, which has not provided credit guarantees related to Cuba since 2006. A Cuban delegation traveled to France in January to discuss debt issues; neither Coface nor the Cuban government made an announcement about the outcome of the talks.

In its most recent risk assessment of Cuba, Coface predicts “mediocre” growth for 2012, citing the slowness of reforms and a slow shift of workers from government to private-sector jobs. Coface expects rising unemployment, inflationary pressure, a slowdown of tourism, and a retraction of nickel prices to depress growth this year.

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