By John Rivero
Deputy Prime Minister (DPM), the Honourable Patrick Faber, made an official visit to the Republic of Cuba from 22nd to 26th of May 2017. The objective of this state visit was to strengthen a bi-lateral relationship with Cuba. He was accompanied by a delegation of ten from the Government of Belize which included ministers, CEOs, directors, and Ambassador Burns accredited to Cuba. Belize and Cuba have always had good relations but bi-lateral trade and investment have been almost insignificant despite an existing trade agreement in place.
The CARICOM-Cuba Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement (TECA), originally signed by both parties in 2000, was recently re-negotiated with a sScond Protocol to amend the TECA. Belize’s trade officials have learnt, from a recent meeting of CARICOM’s Council on Trade and Economic Development (COTED) held the week of May 8th to the 17th, that all CARICOM member states signatory to the agreement had indicated their approval of the Second Protocol. This means that the Secretary-General of the CARCIOM Secretariat, who has approval from the heads of government, is now in a position to sign the protocol on behalf of the community.
Over the past three years, bilateral trade between Belize and Cuba has been minimal. Belize imports from Cuba on average BZ$ 112,000, focusing on a few products, mostly cigars and heparin, a blood thinning agent. Our exports to Cuba are even lower, approximately BZ$ 75,000 worth of personal and household goods. Evidently Cuba imports more than 80% of its maize and poultry and other products from the USA despite the embargo. Belize has the potential to supply high quality non-GMO products including: HACCAP-certified poultry products, maize, beans, cornmeal, and juices. Most of the products in the table below are covered for duty-free market access under the trade agreement except for maize.
Following the DPM’s visit to Cuba, there has been an significant increase of activities and discussions to gauge Belize’s capacity and interest to export goods to Cuba. H.E. Mr. Malmierca, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Trade, extended an invitation to Belize to have a presence in their trade fair, Fair of Havana. H.E. Ambassador Burns along with representatives from the Directorate General for Foreign Trade and BELTRAIDE have met with various productive sectors to create awareness of such opportunities. In the recent past local producers have expressed willingness to trade the following products: milk and cheese; rice – wholly milled; dried, shelled kidney beans, black beans and other legumes; frozen concentrate orange juice; sauces, jams and jellies. And with proper awareness and preparations, other trade opportunities are highly possible.
Some trade facilitation issues will have to be overcome for trade to flourish, including establishing logistics and transportation routes that readily link Belize to Cuba; trans-shipment routes have to be strengthened or created to allow access through Mexico or Jamaica. Cuba’s ambassador to Belize has been active in this regard, offering to collaborate closely on resolving any challenges that may stand in the way of improving trade relations between Belize and Cuba.