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Nov 8, 2000

Belize delegation attends Cuban trade fair

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More and more Belizeans are visiting the island nation of Cuba, for tourism as well as to cultivate ties in government and business. Last week a delegation visited Havana to talk trade…and News Five’s William Neal was there.

William Neal, Reporting

Adversity is often the breeding ground for new, creative ideas. It can be argued that one such idea is Feria Internacional de la Havana, The International Fair of Havana, Cuba’s brainchild and response to the American trade embargo. The aim of the fair is to increase trade opportunities by creating a showcase for both Cuban and foreign products, with Cuba acting as a middleman. Born in 1983, the fair opened with the participation of only three countries. Since then, however, it has truly matured, celebrating its eighteenth birthday this year with the attendance of over sixty countries, including for the first time Belize.

Belize’s representation included both private sector and government officials.

Amalia Mai, Belize’s Ambassador to Cuba

“We have been planning this since about June or July. This is the first representation that we have in Cuba at the International Fair of Havana, the biggest trade fair in Cuba.”

Amalia Mai is Belize’s Ambassador to Cuba. She says that this represents a team effort between her embassy, government’s investment arm BELTRAIDE, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and the Belize Business Bureau.

Amalia Mai

“I am very happy that the Belizean delegation is here. It’s also a commitment and a solidarity that we have with Cuba because Cuba has also been a very great friend of Belize.”

“About twenty-two business persons came to the expo. It is very significant because last year we were only able to trade with Cuba in terms of three point six million dollars. We are hoping that through this participation here, that figure will increase considerably.”

“It is the place to be to make contacts, to meet the counterparts not only in Cuba, but also in the international community.”

But being a part of the international community considering ways to increase trade with Cuba, poses certain challenges and deserves some caution, according to Minister of Trade and Investment Ralph Fonseca.

Ralph Fonseca, Minister of Trade and Investment

“Obviously to get a transaction done, because the Cubans have been cut off from the international financial system, we have to be fairly innovative. There are only a few banks that are here, ING Bank and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya. Apart from those two banks, all the other banks are local banks, which are really owned by the government, and they cannot operate in the outside world without going through those two banks, and we haven’t got Bank Bilbao Vizcaya nor ING Bank in Belize. Of course we have to be very careful because of the Helms-Burton Bills as you know and we don’t want to violate that, but there’s always a way.”

And finding that way, says Minister Fonseca, might improve Belize’s relationship with the entire region.

Ralph Fonseca

“The Cuba relationship with Belize is in the wider context of our relationship with the Caribbean. Cuba is changing, the Caribbean is changing, and Belizeans have got to change along with it. Cuba is being more competitive, the entire Caribbean is being more competitive. Belize has to be more competitive and one way to be competitive is to keep up with what is happening. Then we know that we have to get up even earlier in the morning and work even harder.”

And leading the way to work harder are a handful of Belize’s leading private sector companies, namely Advance Advertising Ideas, the Bowen and Bowen Group, and Travellers Liquors Ltd.

Hilly Martinez, Bowen and Bowen Group

“Basically everybody trades with Cuba. We would be more than willing to trade with Cuba and I am sure that Belizeans will accept any Cuban products. Cuba has excellent products and so do we in Belize. We have various items that we can offer, we have the coffee, jams, jellies, the Mango Tango and that’s from the Gallon Jug section. I am just giving out the brochures with Chan Chich area for the tourists who are passing, who have some interests. My main thing here is with the beer, we have Belikin, Lighthouse, Premium, Guinness, to see if there is any market for it here in Cuba.”

Romel Perdomo, Owner, Travellers Liquors Ltd.

“Our company is getting ready to set up an expo plan early next year, so we are looking for potential countries where we can export to. With the tourist industry so heavy in Cuba, we figured we need to bring the coconut rum out here because Cuba doesn’t have its own coconut rum.”

“We have the craboo cream, then something like the other creams that you have around and it has it’s own unique taste because we have craboo and not a lot of countries know about the craboo, so that’s a potential product for export. We also have the Crystal Lemon, Cuba doesn’t have a lemon rum, so we might be able to get the Crystal Lemon here in Cuba also.”

Austin Waight, Salesman, Advance Advertising Ideas

“Well we figured there’s about sixty-four different countries from around the world, meting here showing off their products. Since we are manufacturers of T-shirts, embroidery and screen printing, we thought maybe we could come here and visit with some of the different countries and Cuba as well so see the potential of our T-shirts being exported out of Belize with our designs and everything to show our work.”

But before companies decide to exhibit internationally, Lourdes Smith of Belize Business Bureau says there is homework to be done.

Lourdes Smith, President, Belize Business Bureau

“They need to know how they plan to market their product internationally. People always want to know how much can you supply, what prices, wholesale prices et cetera. Their products have to be export ready in that proper labeling and proper criteria for export, to specific countries have been met. So they need to do a lot of research to get their product export ready and then be prepared with proper materials, information to hand out at these conventions or exhibitions.”

So once they have done the homework and stand on the international stage, what dreams can be found amid the displays?

Hilly Martinez

“Well once we can get any one of our products into Cuba, then I would say it would be fruitful. It’s doesn’t have to be all, at least we can start with one and I think that would be very good for us. And I said it it’s not only for the Cubans here, but you are looking at the other people who are at the expo and may be interested in some of our products.”

Austin Waight

“To find a way to start shipping T-shirts with different design to different parts of the world, Cuba and different parts of the Caribbean and maybe Central America, with our artistic touch you never know.”

William Neal reporting from Havana, Cuba for News Five.

In the near future Neal will be reporting on the sights and sounds of Cuba, as well as checking out the condition of our Belizean students in Havana.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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