efe-epaHavana

This year Cuba has achieved for the first time its goal of attracting more than $2 billion in foreign investment, essential for sustaining its economic reforms, with the approval of 30 new projects, Cuba's Foreign Trade and Investment (Mincex) Minister Rodrigo Malmierca said Tuesday.

Eight of those plans will be rolled out in the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM), one of the Cuban government's star projects for winning foreign capital, Malmierca said at the Havana International Fair (FIHAV 2017), one of the biggest trade fairs and investment exchanges in the Caribbean.

Of those 30 projects, approved between January and October of this year, 11 correspond to firms with 100 percent foreign capital, nine with administration contracts, five mixed companies and another five based on international economic association agreements.

Also currently in the negotiation phase are 80 other initiatives with "very real possibilities of being nailed down," including 15 in a "very advanced stage" that will probably "be authorized before the year's end," the minister said.

Those 15 projects have an accumulated capital of over $1 billion, enabling the island to close 2017 with a record sum of foreign investment, one of the pillars of its plan to modernize the socialist model.

"Furthermore, this year eight extensions and reinvestments have been approved with a total commitment of $79 million," he said.

Malmierca presented Tuesday at the FIHAV the new portfolio of businesses open to foreign capital, launched for the first time in 2014, and which this year includes 156 new projects appraised at more than $3 billion.

To business owners and executives from more than 70 countries, the minister noted that Cuba offers possible investors "legal, secure and transparent" opportunities and "access to an expanding market," while admitting that there can still be "delays" in business negotiations affected by bureaucratic "sluggishness."

The latest version of this portfolio consists of 456 projects for an assessed amount of more than $10.7 billion, and for the first time includes enterprises in the cultural sector - including a national pay TV platform - and in the insurance sector.

In all, 50 projects are proposed in the new portfolio for the ZEDM, a modern business center and merchant port still under construction that offers tax and labor advantages.

Tourism is the segment with the most projects, more than 150, mainly for building and marketing new hotels, but also for the administration of marinas, construction of an aquatic park in Havana and the establishment of an equestrian club and a chain of fishing clubs.

Malmierca recalled that since the approval of the new Foreign Investment Law in 2014, 110 new deals have been reached with foreign firms, of which 22 are reinvestments with companies already established on the island and 25 are in the ZEDM.

"These companies come from more than 20 different countries, since we want to diversify our economy and not depend on a single partner," Malmierca said.

By Sara Gomez Armas.