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Cuban Domestic and Foreign Trade Reports for 2008
According to a report presented Thursday by Minister of Domestic Trade Marino Murillo Jorge to representatives to the National Assembly, that agency is fulfilling the strategic objectives approved for this year and for the three-year-period 2007-2009, despite material and organizational difficulties.

Murillo said that many of the problems faced relate to problems of control and enforcing regulations, and urged everyone to participate at the neighborhoods level in the struggle against corruption and crime that is being fought in this sector.

“You have the legal authority to have the shopkeeper, gastronomy manager or any other worker of the Ministry of Domestic Trade (MINCIN) that commits a crime or mistreats people removed from their positions,” he said to the representatives, after having a discussion on cadre policy and the inappropriate attitude of some directors and managers.

Faced with the concern of the members of the Parliament about the functioning of the Family Attention System (SAF), the minister said that it is terrible that there are places where the system does not work well, as all conditions are guaranteed for it to function. He noted that if there are places where this service has still not been offered, it is because there has been lack of willingness and a failure to reinforce regulations.

When referring to the retail market, he highlighted that in the last few years there has been a steady growth that now reaches more than 16.4 billion pesos, which represents a growth of 10.5 percent over that period.

The minister explained that in order to meet the increased levels of money in circulation required to meet needs and internal financial equilibrium, a network of wholesale distributors was reorganized and two new channels were created: one for food products and the other for industrial products. In addition, several retail stores offering specialized products were reopened.

Murillo acknowledged that work has to be done to boost the wholesale distribution network of food products by improving the integration of municipal and provincial structures. Regarding the wholesale distribution network of industrial products, he said the organizational structure needs work to ensure that products are always available in retail stores.

Regarding food and household products provided at a subsidized price to all families, the minister said that while the stability of the provision of supplies should improve, they were better in 2008 than in 2007. He noted lingering problems in production, transportation and distribution.

There were modest advances in the provision of gastronomic services but it was noted that work needs to be done to improve the work of the management and labor.

The service industry, the sector most affected during the Special Period, recorded a slight recovery, growing by 42 percent in 2008.

There were 600 workshops and 1,050 stalls across the country that provided repairs to household appliances this year under the “Energy Revolution” program. More than 5.5 million appliances have been repaired, with an average of 624 appliances a day that have to be left to be looked at another day, which showed an improvement in November, dropping to 338 a day average. The goal is to have no carryovers.

The recovery and refurbishing of storage facilities advanced in 2008.

One of the most heated debates, along with that of school uniforms, was the quality and prices of gastronomic services. The minister clarified that there were two types of eatery services offered by the government: a subsidized line and a for-profit line.

Foreign Trade has gradually increased from 2004 reaching its highest figures in 2008, with an estimated 33 percent growth. Nevertheless, foreign trade is unbalanced, with the country importing far more than it exports.

Minister of Foreign Trade Raúl de la Nuez spoke about the need to reverse this imbalance. Between 2003 and 2007 imports represented between 71 and 79 percent of foreign trade, and 2008 is on track to have the most severe imbalance yet as a result of rises in the prices of fuel, food products and raw materials—together with a drop in value in key Cuban export commodities such as nickel, sugar and other goods like as cigars, seafood products, cement and rum.

Cuban foreign trade partners in 2003 were: Latin America (41 percent), Europe (39 percent), Asia and the Middle East (17 percent), Africa (2 percent) and Oceania (1 percent). In 2008, trade with Latin America jumped to 53 percent, while trade with Asia (especially China) jumped to 21 percent. Nonetheless, trade with Europe dropped to 22 percent. These numbers represent growing trade with Venezuela and China. Other trade partners that grew in 2008 were Russia, Brazil, Vietnam, South Korea and Japan.

The minister of Foreign Trade also spoke about the favorable climate to increase trade with the European Union, especially Spain, Germany, Italy and Holland. He noted that the import structure has been reduced and centralized.

He said that the exportat of services has grown in the sectors of healthcare and tourism, and to a lesser degree in construction and biotechnology.

De la Nuez also noted important advances in the program to substitute imports, which should grow in 2009, he said.

Ricardo Cabrisas, the vice president of the Council of Ministers, said that it is paramount that the Ministry of Foreign Trade reclaims its role in guiding foreign trade and providing the infrastructure for the control and supervision over what it imports and exports.

He underlined that the trade imbalance has to be solved, primarily by producing more items for export and substituting imports, which he said is an action that must go beyond mere slogans to become a constant goal. He reported that the results in this area are far below what the country needs to reverse its imbalance, which is of prime importance to the country’s economic survival.

(Juventud Rebelde)

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