By Marc Frank
Cuba’s broadest gauge of its foreign trade swung to a $488 million surplus in 2007, helped by a surge in service exports which have traditionally included health care provided in Venezuela, official statistics showed on Thursday.
The current account balance of payments moved to a surplus in 2007 from a $215 million deficit in 2006, as net service exports last year reached $7.8 billion, helping offset a trade deficit of about $6.2 billion, as gauged by current prices, according to data on National Statistics Office’s Web site.
The current account, the broadest measure of any country’s external transactions, can play a key role in augmenting or diminishing a country’s foreign currency reserves.
Cuba does not specify what it includes within the service export category, though on various occasions officials have said tourism and related revenues, the export of medical and other technical services and donations all fall within it.
Besides trade in goods and services, like tourism, the current account also includes financial transfers like profit repatriation and interest payments.
The statistical office’s data Thursday only provided data on current account’s tally of trade in goods and services.
Last year, Cuba’s exports of goods totaled about $4 billion compared with $3.2 billion in 2006, as tallied by current prices. Total imports of goods reached $10.2 billion compared with $9.5 billion in 2006.
Analysts say strengthening prices of nickel, Cuba’s leading export, have helped boost overall exports.
Service exports were about $8 billion in 2007 at current prices, compared with about $6.7 billion in 2006. Service imports were $215 million in 2007 compared with $211 million in 2006.
Government sources and local analysts say that in recent years net service income has been mainly due to offering services like health care to leftist ally Venezuela.
That as enabled Cuba to more or less balance its external finances despite a huge trade deficit, begin paying debts contracted since 1991 and register strong growth after years of crisis that followed the demise of the Soviet Union.
Non-tourism related service exports began their dramatic increase after a 2004 accord with Venezuela, under which the oil-rich South American country pays for massive health and other assistance.
In that year, service exports were just under $4 billion, of which more than half were from tourism and related activities, at current prices. Imports were $5.5 billion and income from non-tourism services, such as sending doctors overseas, of around $1.5 billion.
The National Statistics Office has separately reported the 20 percent jump in service exports in 2007 was not related to tourism revenues, which stagnated at $2.2 billion.
Revenues from pharmaceutical and other joint ventures abroad may also be included, according to local economists, as well as the training of foreign students.