Economictimes.Indiatimes.com

A large Cuban trade delegation has arrived in India looking for cooperation in cars, pharmaceuticals, tourism and more. Of course, armed with its famous rum and cigars, the hardline communist state that is gradually opening up its economy to outsiders also has a lot on offer.

“Indian cars like the Nano and Maruti have a potential market in Cuba,” Miguel Angel Ramirez Ramos, Cuba’s ambassador to India, told IANS ahead of the arrival of a large trade delegation to New Delhi from Havana.

The 19-member delegation, led by Eduardo Escandell Amador, the deputy minister in Cuba’s ministry of foreign trade, arrived here Saturday night. They will be here for 12 days to hold interactions with Indian leaders, government officials and the captains of trade and industry.

The three major Indian outfits, FICCI, CII and Assocham will all hold separate meetings with the visitors from Cuba.

The fresh attempt to strengthen trade ties is both politically and economically savvy for India. With the Left parties as an important ally supporting the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, deepening ties with Cuba is important for India, which is seen to be close to the United States.

In addition, there are expectations that many foreign companies will try to get into Cuba once the economy opens up. A renewed dialogue on trade and economic ties between the two sides at this juncture can provide the Indian companies with the required launch pad to move into Cuba.

“India has assured us many times that its relations with the US and Cuba are on two different tracks. We are satisfied with that assurance,” Ramos said.

This is the biggest trade delegation that has come from Cuba to India and its arrival here at a time when Raul Castro has taken over the reins from his brother Fidel Castro as president of the country has raised expectations of deepening trade ties between the two sides.

India-Cuba trade that in the heydays of the 1980s was over $300 million has now dipped to $50 million.

“If we can bring it back to the 1980s’ level, it will be a great achievement,” Ramos said.

The ambassador also denied that Cuba was looking to open its economy as Raul Castro was in power. “From 2004 changes in our policies were brought in. In the last four years the economy has grown by 42.5 percent and every year it has been growing at 7.5 per cent,” Ramos said.

Tata’s Nano, which has caught the imagination of car manufacturers and buyers the world over, has huge potential in Cuba, says Ramos.

The Nano, better known as the “one lakh car” - available at $2,500 - is one of the cheapest four-wheelers available in the national or international market. The first batch of vehicles is scheduled to roll out by the yearend from the Tata’s new factory at Singur in West Bengal.

Though Indian cars can find a market in Cuba, there are a number of other areas where the two sides can cooperate. The trade delegation represents different sectors of Cuba, from pharmaceuticals and tourism to retail, energy and health.

And they have a lot more things to sell. From Cuban rum to cigars, everything will be on offer.

One of the reasons why trade and business between India and Cuba stagnated was because of the unavailability of a Line of Credit from New Delhi to Havana. Venezuela has become one of Cuba’s largest trading partners and the trade between the two sides is now over $7 billion.

But Asian giant China has also made its presence felt in Cuba. With soft loans to the island, China is today the largest provider of locomotives, light vehicles, and buses and the trade between the two sides has reached $3 billion.

The leadership in Havana wants New Delhi to provide it with similar soft loans or a Line of Credit to enhance trade between the two sides. Though mostly the delegation will be in Delhi, it will also spend two days in Mumbai and meet among others, senior executives of Tata International Ltd - the wing of the Tata Group that looks after trade, business, and foreign investments.

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