(Original title: Cuba says exports of services tops $9 billion)
By Marc Frank | Reuters
Cuban exports of services grew by 6.2 percent in 2008, topping the $9 billion mark for the first time and consolidating their position as Cuba’s most important source of foreign exchange, the government said this week.
The export of services income (officials say more than half comes from leftist ally Venezuela) has enabled Cuba to more or less balance its external finances in recent years despite a huge trade deficit that soared to $11.6 billion in 2008.
The National Statistics Office of Cuba reported 2008 service exports at $9.2 billion, up from $8.6 billion in 2007.
Cuba does not specify what it includes within the service export category, though officials have said tourism and related revenues, the export of medical and other technical services and donations fall within it.
Cuba said it received $2.5 billion from tourism in 2008.
Revenues from pharmaceutical and other joint ventures abroad may also be included, according to local economists, as well as the training of foreign students.
Non-tourism related service exports began increasing dramatically after a 2004 accord with Venezuela, under which the oil-rich South American oil-producing country pays Cuba for massive health care assistance and other services.
Cuba reported 40,000 of its citizens worked in Venezuela last year, 30,000 of them in the health sector.
Before the 2004 agreement with Venezuela, Cuba’s service exports totaled less than $4 billion a year, with tourism and related activities accounting for more than half of that.
The government reports foreign exchange data in the convertible peso which it pegs at $1.08 U.S. (Editing by Jeff Franks and Anthony Boadle)