HAVANA — Cuba plans to allow some foreign investment in local wholesale and retail trade for the first time since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, the government said late Monday, in a bid to emerge from the worst economic crisis of the island nation for decades.
Deputy Commerce Minister Ana Teresita Gonzalez said in an evening televised debate that foreign investors would be allowed to wholly own local wholesalers for the first time or enter the market through joint ventures. Retail would be more restricted, but it also opened the door for some public/private businesses in this sector.
The reforms would allow foreign-invested entities to invest in warehouses and back-end logistics operations supplying public and private companies, for example, supporting the country’s efforts to improve the efficiency of its domestic retail sector. notoriously unproductive detail.
Gonzalez also said Cuba would “selectively” allow certain foreign investors to enter the retail market, provided the investment contributes to the country’s socialist goals and lowers prices.
Internal Trade Minister Betsy Diaz Velazquez said on the same talk show that the state would maintain its dominance in retail, but allow some public/private joint ventures.
“We will prioritize these types of initiatives with foreign investors already in Cuba and in allied countries,” she said.
The additional measures come as Cuba struggles to redefine its largely closed, state-run economy after two years of pandemic woes and sweeping U.S. sanctions that have hampered recovery.
Growing discontent over long lines for commodities, fuel shortages and power outages prompted Communist Party officials to fast-track long-delayed plans to reform the state economy of soviet style.
The two officials said on Monday evening the aim was to get more raw materials and goods into the hands of the island’s producers and consumers – but economists and businesspeople consulted by Reuters said the measures would probably be insufficient.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but far too little and too late,” said Cuban economist Omar Everleny.
He said the measures were riddled with caveats and red tape.
“Both ads were full of words like ‘exceptions, control, conditions’, as if they didn’t understand the seriousness of the crisis.”
A foreign businesswoman involved in Cuban trade told Reuters on condition of anonymity that investors would continue to be wary of any deal involving trading in local currency or debt.
She said the measures indicated the government was “refusing to step out of a failing model”.