HAVANA – Spain is proposing “opening a new phase of greater intensity” in economic and trade relations with Cuba, in the current situation of a developing rapprochement between the communist island and the United States, and the opportunities that will bring, according to Spanish Secretary of State for Trade Jaime Garcia-Legaz.
The turn by Washington toward the Caribbean nation and decisions such as removing Cuba from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, with the economic consequences that move implies, “places Spain in a situation in which we feel, and the companies have let us know this, that we must begin a phase of much greater intensity,” said Garcia-Legaz in an interview with Efe in Havana at the end of a two-day working visit.
Heading the most important Spanish business mission to travel to the island in recent times, Garcia-Legaz emphasized that the visit serves as “a point of acceleration in (bilateral) economic and trade relations.”
Spain is the island’s third-largest trade partner and more than 200 Spanish firms operate there with annual bilateral trade amounting to some 1 billion euros ($1.07 billion).
“That’s fine, but we’re still in mid-change,” the secretary said. “Now the circumstances are coming together that we haven’t seen until now for the Spanish government also to make an additional effort to support the presence of Spanish companies” on the island.
Amid these circumstances, Cuba is also undertaking economic reforms, such as a new Foreign Investment Law, a measure that Garcia-Legaz said has created a “more open” legal framework and a new “range of opportunities.”
“It doesn’t mean that suddenly things have gone from nothing to everything, but it’s true that that law already allows things like companies with 100 percent Spanish capital” and attractive investments in sectors like property development, especially associated with tourism.
Hotel development is one of the areas where Spain sees a new area of investment in Cuba capable of attracting large construction companies.
“Someone’s going to have to build these new hotels: who better than a Spanish company with proven ability to make these investments,” he said.
Regarding his contacts this week with senior officials on the island, Garcia-Legaz emphasized “the willingness of the Cuban government to deal with Spanish companies.”
“Many of them have been here for many years. In the hotel sector, we’re the No. 1 player in Cuba in numbers of rooms and with a very high quality of service. It’s logical that they look for companies that have proven they can do it well,” he said.
Spain is a leading business presence in the Cuban tourist sector, with chains like Melia and Iberostar operating on the island and with some 60 hotel administration contracts.
In general terms, the secretary said he believed that the potential growth of the Cuban economy in the coming years opens “an enormous number of opportunities for those who are here and for those who are going to come here.”
The Spanish firms established for years on the island have the advantage “of having been here when others were not.”
“That puts them in a privileged situation and that is what they have to take advantage of” before the expected “avalanche” of foreign companies.
But thinking that the arrival of new foreign firms on the island is a threat to the Spanish ones that are already in Cuba is “a mistake,” said the secretary.
“The arrival of new companies means that the market is going to grow, that there will be more customers, that there’s going to be more buying power and that there are going to be, therefore, greater economic possibilities for companies,” said Garcia-Legaz.