HAVANA (Reuters) – French-Cuban trade should take off next year, rising more than 66 percent to 250 million euros ($334 million) from 2011, the European nation’s trade minister said on Friday, following a political rapprochement.
European Union nations have explored improved relations with Cuba after the Caribbean island nation of 11 million people started releasing political prisoners to resolve one of its biggest problems with the international community.
French Trade Minister Pierre Lellouche – the first French ministerial-level official to visit Cuba in nine years – asked the Communist-led government to allow a chamber of commerce to further deepen ties between the two nations.
“The laws don’t allow it … I need a chamber of commerce,” he said in Havana, where he met Cuban ministers for trade, tourism and energy, among others.
He said France would like to sign joint ventures with Cuba for agriculture projects.
French officials said Paris exports mainly food stuffs such as cereals, and industrial goods to the country while Cuban exports to France are minimal.
Cuba racked up a $3.9 billion total trade surplus last year as President Raul Castro’s efforts to cut imports and earn more abroad bore fruit for a second consecutive year, the government’s statistics office reported.
The country has been battling severe financial problems since 2008, when hurricanes, the global economic crisis and internal inefficiencies left it without funds to pay bills.
Castro is pushing through a range of reforms in an attempt to strengthen the struggling Soviet-style economy by encouraging more private initiative and reducing the role and size of the state in some sectors.
Paris and Havana re-established political dialogue earlier this year after years of a slow rapprochement between Cuba and Europe following the arrest of 75 dissidents in Cuba in 2003.