Latin America

China, Cuba sign bilateral agreements

Raúl Castro is working to attract foreign investment to jumpstart the ailing Cuban economy

Chinese president Xi Jinping visits former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Chinese president Xi Jinping visits former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.Alex Castro (AP)

Chinese president Xi Jinping arrived in Havana on Tuesday to sign 29 new bilateral agreements in finance, biotechnology, agriculture, infrastructure and renewable energy.

Beijing will finance a new terminal at the port of Santiago de Cuba, according to the news website Cuba Debate. China and Cuba will also cooperate on cyberspace issues.

On the economic front, Xi and Raúl Castro agreed on protocols to oversee the quality of the tobacco and sugar that the island nation exports to China.

Before the meeting at the Palacio de la Revolución, Xi visited historic Cuban leader Fidel Castro, 87, and presented him with “the respect” of the Chinese people.

China is Cuba’s second- most-important trade partner after Venezuela

“You are the founder of the causes of the revolution and the construction of Cuba, and you are the founder of relations between China and Cuba,” said Xi.

Xi and Castro were also expected to discuss the new conditions of the Foreign Investment Law approved by the Cuban government in March. This legislation, part of a government drive to jumpstart the ailing economy, will allow foreign investors to bring their own workforce over to the island to work on construction projects.

The Chinese president hopes to get a sense of Cuba’s progress on economic reform, especially with regard to foreign investment, with a view to reactivating old projects and launching new ones.

This is the fourth and last Latin American stop for Xi before returning home. Before this, he was in Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela, where he signed off on multi-million-euro loans and dozens of cooperation agreements.

Beijing will finance a new terminal at the port of Santiago de Cuba

The government of Raúl Castro hopes for similar treatment, but first China needs to make sure that Cuba has done its homework.

Both Raúl and Fidel Castro have underscored the key role of Chinese investment in regional development, especially when it comes to exploiting the rich oil, mineral and freshwater reserves in Latin America. “We face the challenge of working toward the industrialization of our natural and agricultural resources, of increasing and diversifying our exports, and achieving a more equal trade balance that will reserve an important role for our ties with the People’s Republic of China,” said Raúl Castro in Brazilia on June 17.

China has significant oil interests in Cuba, where it manages several wells in the northern coast. In June 2011, then vice-president Xi Jinping signed 13 energy and economic agreements with Havana, including two projects to expand the Cienfuegos refinery and build a liquid gas plant in partnership with Venezuela.

China is Cuba’s second-most-important trade partner after Venezuela, with a bilateral trade volume of 1.4 billion dollars in 2013.

In the last 17 years, Raúl Castro has traveled to Beijing three times to learn about the “Chinese experiment” of economic reform.

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