Although there are some differences in the way Cuba and T&T do business, CEO of the T&T Chamber of Commerce Catherine Kumar says it is important for local businesses and companies to enter that market.
She said initial feedback from the participating companies in the Chamber’s recent fact finding mission to Cuba indicate that there is immediate potential for trade and collaboration.
The T&T mission to Cuba included 17 companies and 20 delegates, along with officials from exporTT. Some of the sectors represented included energy, pharmaceuticals, food and beverage.
Kumar said in Cuba almost all economic sectors are state controlled but in recent times there has been a shift allowing privately owned businesses to function more freely. However, so far this is restricted to hair salons and restaurants.
“As such there is no equivalent private sector as exists in our country and business negotiations primarily take place with state agencies. However, the response from the Cuban agencies has been positive and to ensure that this mission has long term benefits to our members, the T&T Chamber and the Cuban Chamber of Commerce signed a co-operation agreement on June 11, “ she said
The Chamber CEO said the agreement will facilitate a stronger business relationship and support a framework for member companies who wish to do business in Cuba. She gave the example of state run supermarkets with limited variety and the potential where they is an opportunity for T&T businesses to supply a range of products.
“We found potential for collaboration and trade. In the food and beverage sector the Government run supermarkets are stocked with limited variety. This coupled with Cuba’s growing tourism industry means that there is demand for food and beverage and other household items like canned food products, dry goods, dishwashing liquid, laundry detergent, toilet paper and alcoholic beverages,” Kumar said.
She warned, however, that there are problems with distribution networks in Cuba which are more focused on price than brand awareness.
“The latter is usually important to our manufacturers who invest heavily in marketing and brand awareness. As such, potential T&T exporters will have to hire a private brand activation manager which translates into initial higher costs but which should pay off via higher sales in the medium term,” she said.
One of the participants in the T&T mission, Charles Carvalho, CEO of Carvalho Travel Agencies, urged local companies to look at the long term future as Cuba continues to open up its economy.
While T&T has long enjoyed diplomatic ties with Cuba, improved relations between that Caribbean nation and the United States have increased prospects for a range of economic activities. More trade and travel between the two countries provide opportunities for investment and new markets for a range of industries in the region.