By Marc Frank
HAVANA, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Communist Cuba’s foreign trade declined by more than $900 million in 2002, as a foreign exchange crisis forced Havana to slash imports by $677 million, the official daily Granma said on Monday.
“Trade was $5.574 billion ... a 13.9 percent decline compared with 2001,” Granma said, reporting on a Foreign Trade Ministry meeting over the weekend.
Cuba reported 2001 trade was $6.5 billion, of which $4.838 billion was imports and $1.662 billion exports.
Granma said imports declined 14 percent last year and exports 13.6 percent, or by $266 million. The trade deficit was $2.725 billion, a 14.2 percent decline from $3.176 billion in 2001.
The trade decline was the first reported by Cuba since 1994, when it began recovering from an economic crisis caused by the demise of former benefactor the Soviet Union.
The recovery has slowed since 2000, with the government reporting the gross domestic product up 1.1 percent last year, compared with 3 percent in 2001 and more than 6 percent in 2000.
A 5 percent decline in tourism, low sugar prices, hurricanes, shrinking foreign investment and credit and the U.S. trade embargo left the country short of cash to import oil and other products in 2002, Economy Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez recently said.
EUROPE AND THE AMERICAS DOMINATE TRADE
Western diplomats reported exports of machinery and nonessential items such as cars and computers declined significantly, as did supplies for the sugar industry in the wake of Havana’s 2002 decision to close half the country’s mills.
Europe accounted for 41 percent of Cuba’s 2002 trade, the Americas 39 percent and Asia 18 percent, Granma reported.
Havana’s top trading partners were Venezuela, Spain, China, Canada and Russia in that order, unchanged from 2001.
Granma said oil and its derivatives accounted for 21 percent of Cuba’s imports last year, and food 20 percent of imports.
Developing food trade with the United States was a special focus of the weekend meeting, Granma said.
In 2000, the U.S. Congress loosened the trade embargo against Cuba to allow for the sale of agricultural products for cash.
Cuba began purchasing U.S. food in December 2001, with 2002 representing the first full year of trade since the United States slapped sanctions on the Caribbean island in the early 1960s.
The United States recently reported 2002 agricultural sales to Cuba were around $140 million.
Copyright 2003, Reuters News Service