Canada and Quebec Business in Cuba
This is a continuation of our interview with His Excellency, Julio Garmendía Peña, Ambassador of Cuba to Canada which resulted in an in-depth interview in three parts. We discussed a wide variety of topics covering currency unification, wages, Canada and Cuba, Quebec in Cuba, the economy and the question on everybody’s mind, (we had to ask it), a Trump question.
In this part of the interview with Ambassador Garmendía, we took a look at Canadian and Quebec business interests in Cuba.
Cuba Business Report: Let’s move onto the subject of Canadian business in Cuba. We do not hear much in the press about Canadian business in Cuba. Personally I think this is because Canadians go quietly about their business. Is this a correct assumption? Year over year, has there been an increase in the Canadian business presence in Cuba?
His Excellency, Julio Garmendía Peña, Ambassador of Cuba to Canada:
I would say there has been little time to see an increase but we have seen an increase in different countries willing to come to Cuba. In fact, we have worked during these two years with lots of companies who are interested in exploring in Cuba. That doesn’t mean that everybody signs a contract or is already investing. Usually ten people apply and one decides to invest. But at the end of the day, there is renewed interest from Canadian companies.
Of course I should add that in any case, the presence of the blockade bothers (many) in this case. Because many Canadian companies that have interests or links to the United States are afraid of being charged or fined by the U.S. institutions so they are very cautious about involvement with Cuba. And that’s a reality and they have to count on that.
Cuba Business Report: Yes, I think that’s true, there’s a lot of fear of the American blockade for international business.
Moving on to the subject of Quebec business in Cuba. Philippe Couillard, the Premiere of Quebec, led a trade delegation to Havana last September. At that time, I believe there was the intention of setting up a trade office. Is this in the works? How is the progress? When is the expected opening date?
It’s not a trade office, it’s an office they call an “antenna.” They have one in Mexico. It is for the development of the complexity of relations with the country where they are present. Trade, yes, but also cultural links, state relations, etc. They are planning to open an office, so far within the framework of the Embassy of Canada in Havana, beginning from there.
Cuba Business Report: It appears that Quebec has a great business presence in Cuba. The fact is that the Quebecois love Cuba. Is that the province with the greatest business presence in Cuba? Would you agree?
Quebec has for a long time been a very important province for Cuba-Canada relations. I think this is the province which sends the most tourists to Cuba. The Quebecois are maybe 55 or 60 percent of the total number of tourists from Canada. I can’t say the exact figure but they do send lots of tourists to Cuba.
Secondly, there has been an initiative of the government of Quebec to reinforce the relationship with Cuba in different fields, including trade, investments and other activities of mutual interest. For example, they have a very outstanding development in clean energy production and this is a sector Cuba is very interested in.
We think Quebec is a good example of a province that can help Cuba to change our pattern of energy production which now is based mainly in fossil fuels (oil and gas). We do have a lot of potential in clean energy sources that we could take advantage of such as wind, for instance.
Quebec is also known for the successful development of cooperatives in numerous sectors of its economy and this is one of the directions Cuba is updating its economic model, creating cooperatives not only in the field of the production of food but also in other activities. Quebec is in the avant garde of cooperatives in different services and activities so we think we can take from them many experiences.
Quebec has outstanding universities and they proposed (during the visit last September) to have an exchange in the framework of higher education. They offered ten scholarships for Cubans. Quebec is willing to work harder in the different branches of the economy and I think it’s a good example of how Canadian provinces can work with Cuba.
The interview with the Ambassador is to be continued. Part III is a discussion on foreign investment, economic and infrastructure changes in Cuba, and, of course, a Trump question.