Cuba to embark on deregulation of state companies

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba will begin deregulating state-run companies in 2014 as reform of the Soviet-style command economy moves from retail services and farming into its biggest enterprises, the head of the Communist Party’s reform efforts said.

Politburo member and reform czar Marino Murillo said the 2014 economic plan included dozens of changes in how the companies, accountable for most economic activity in the country, did business. He made the comments in a closed-door speech to parliament deputies on Saturday, and some of his remarks were published by official media yesterday.

“The plan for the coming year has to be different,” Murillo was quoted as saying by Communist Party daily newspaper Granma. He said that of 136 directives for next year “51 impact directly on the transformation of the companies.”

The reforms will affect big state enterprises like nickel producer Cubaniquel and oil company Cubapetroleo and entail changes like allowing the firms to retain half of their profits for investment and wage increases and giving managers more authority.

The plan also threatens nonprofitable concerns with closure if they fail to turn themselves around.

“Murillo’s empowerment of state-run companies is a milestone on the road toward a new Cuban model of state capitalism, where senior managers of government-owned firms become market-driven entrepreneurs,” said Richard Feinberg of the Washington-based Brookings Institution and an expert on Cuba’s economy.

“But only time will tell whether the government is willing to truly submit the big firms to market discipline – to let the inefficient ones go bankrupt,” he said.

Murillo cited the Communist Party’s reform plan, adopted in 2011, which he said called for freeing productive forces to increase efficiency and reducing how companies’ performance was measured to a few indicators such as profit and productivity.

Already this month, 124 small to medium state businesses, from produce markets to minor transportation and construction concerns, were leased to private cooperatives which, with few exceptions, operate on the basis of supply and demand and share profits.

Hundreds more were expected to follow in the coming years as the state moves out of secondary economic activity such as retailing and farming in favour of individual initiative and open markets under reforms orchestrated by President Raul Castro, who took over for his ailing brother Fidel in 2008.

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