Managing director of Sacha Cosmetics, who is currently in Cuba on a business trip, said he was in a "celebratory mood" over the news that the US had begun steps to normalise relations with the Caribbean island."We have been the vanguard in Cuba and went there to do business, even when they were warning companies about doing business in Cuba," he told the T&T Guardian in a telephone interview yesterday.
Maharaj, who at the time was in the office of one of his main distributors, said Cubans were celebrating this new development in the country's history.He said he was not worried about competition from US companies in Cuba, since T&T companies like his own had been there for a few years and were well established in that market with a head start over any US competitors.
"Cuba has a duty free agreement with 14 Caricom countries. Some countries have partial scope agreements and others have none. There was a company from Guatemala which had to face 100 per cent duty, while Sacha Cosmetics had zero duty to face," he said.
"That Guatemalan company eventually was forced out of the market and today Sacha Cosmetics is doing well in Cuba. The Cubans know how long we have been here and from the signals they have given our T&T companies, we will be protected."Maharaj said he was optimistic about Cuba's future."I expect the US embargo to be lifted completely in a few months. This is a great time to be in Cuba," he said.
Dax Driver, CEO of the T&T Energy Chamber, said his organisation led a trade mission to Cuba in November 2008."Coming out of the mission there were a number of Trinidad and Tobago energy service companies who did business in Cuba, mainly providing support to offshore drilling operations. The disappointing results from those drilling campaigns meant that there have been fewer wells drilled in recent years and therefore fewer opportunities in this sub-sector," he said.
Driver said once US-based firms got into Cuba, there should be more opportunities for local energy firms."T&T companies did benefit in the past from the fact that they did not need to compete with US-based companies in this sector. However, if and when the economic embargo is lifted there are likely to be additional investments into the Cuban energy and heavy industrial sectors and this will represent new potential opportunities for Trinidad and Tobago energy service companies," he said.
Stephen King, managing director of Ixanos, a local software development company with close contacts with companies in the Cuban ICT sector, told the T&T Guardian Cuba would continue to open up but it would not be a quick process.
"The change from a state-run system to a private sector one will not happen quickly. There are a lot of barriers to prevent that from happening. If a company wants to get into Cuba, they must have had a relationship with a Cuban company for at least three years before they are even considered to be allowed to enter," he said.
However, King added, there were many opportunities for local businesses given Cuba's highly-educated and skilled population. Also, there are different economic strata in Cuba."This is now a great opportunity for T&T companies and businesses. If a company wishes to get into Cuba, contact the Cuban Chamber of Commerce. There is also the T&T Trade Facilitation Office there. T&T also has an embassy there that gives a lot of help so take the opportunity," he said.
In a recent interview, Cuban Ambassador to T&T Guillermo Vazquez Moreno told the Business Guardian Cuba would continue to invite T&T companies to invest there as it continued to make that island an attractive investment destination. See Pages A22 and A23.