HAVANA – Cuba inaugurated on Monday the Havana International Fair, or FIHAV 2015, aimed at showcasing the trade potential of the island nation, to be attended by over 900 companies, 26 of them from the United States, ringing in a new era of economic and bilateral ties between Washington and Havana.
At the inauguration, Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca underlined Cuba will continue to work at normalizing relations with United States but the “main obstacle” was the continuing embargo on the island, which also hindered business with third countries.
“The end of the embargo will be a step favoring international economic relations and not just bilateral ones between Cuba and the U.S.,” the minister said in his inaugural address.
He added Cuban law “does not discriminate against any company on the basis of its origin,” and will welcome all American companies interested in entering the Cuban market “on an equal footing.”
Since the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, it is routine for the latter’s business delegations to visit the island country, which gains special relevance in the present FIHAV edition.
On the side lines of the fair, Havana also hosted Monday the first meeting of the U.S.-Cuba Business Council – formed in Washington in September by the Chambers of Commerce of both countries, led by Chamber of Commerce Vice-President Myron Brilliant.
The meeting was attended by representatives from leading U.S. firms including Stanley Morgan, Home Depot, Caterpillar, Boeing, American Airlines, Heinz Kraft, Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and Sprint.
Special Adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State, David Thorne, who is in Cuba to facilitate trade contacts, also attended the closed-door bilateral meetings, where state telecom monopoly Etecsa, and American firm Sprint, signed the first agreement to provide direct roaming between the two countries, allowing 60 million Sprint users to send and receive calls and text messages, which was not possible until now.
Among the U.S. companies attending FIHAV is BajaFerries, a Florida firm interested in operating ferries between Miami and Havana.
“We have the U.S. permits, our own ferries, and we can start providing ferry services in three or four months after obtaining the Cuban license,” Joseph Hinson from the company told EFE.
Representing the agro-foods sector was Ernesto Baron, President of FTA International, comprising all U.S. poultry producers, who hopes to increase the already high U.S. chicken meat exports to Cuba.
While U.S. companies are the highlight of this year’s fair, other countries including Venezuela, Spain, Russia and China, which are among Cuba’s biggest trade partners, will also have strong business representations.
In its 33rd edition, the FIHAV has 2,000 stalls spread over 25,000 square meters (around 270,000 square feet), showcasing over 900 companies from 70 countries, making it the biggest in the last 15 years.