First Czech trade mission in modern era aims to build on historic ties with Cuba

Photo: Richard Hewitt / freeimages

The first official delegation of Czech entrepreneurs to visit Cuba for decades left for the communist country on Monday. More than 20 Czech companies are taking part in the historic mission, while another is planned for the very near future, the Czech News Agency reported.

Photo: Richard Hewitt / freeimages
A thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States has made headlines in recent months and a joint commission is now dealing with issues including the 55-year US economic embargo on the island state.

Now the Czech Republic is also seeking to boost business ties with Cuba, 25 years after the return of democracy in the former brought an end to decades of socialist brotherhood between the two states.

Among the nearly two dozen Czech businesses in the trade delegation hoping to build on past ties are Wikov Industry (a manufacturer of gears and gearboxes formerly known as Škoda Ozubená kola) and Full Medical Services (which aims to build on erstwhile cooperation between the Czechoslovak and Cuban public health care providers). Another firm with extensive contacts in Cuba is Linet, a manufacturer of hospital beds.

The visit aims to capitalise on opportunities for doing business as the Cuban market loosens up. The president of the Czech Chamber of Commerce, Vladimír Dlouhý, said there was great potential for future cooperation between Czech and Cuban firms in areas such as science and research, energy, medical engineering, transport, food production and tourism. Cuba is a country in need of virtually everything, said Mr. Dlouhý.

The Czech Ministry of Finance is also taking part in the delegation with a view to resolving Cuba’s long-standing debt to the Czech Republic, which amounts to nearly CZK 7 billion.

Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Tlapa says Prague is looking to reach a deal on repayment methods. One option is a debt capitalisation under which Czech companies involved in projects in Cuba would settle part of the debt.

The chairwoman of the Czech-Slovak-Cuban Chamber of Commerce, Ivana Tichotová, said the delegation’s visit should help revive trade cooperation and to build on the longstanding good name of products marked Made in Czechoslovakia. This old association gives her organisation’s members an advantage over competitors from elsewhere, she said.

In addition, the visit should help Cuban firms find qualified Czech employees who could help the developing country, Ms. Tichotová said, explaining that the two states can build on their rich tradition of cooperation in the field of education.

Another Czech delegation is due to visit the island state – this time headed by a deputy minister of industry and trade – as soon as next month.

Czech exports to Cuba amounted to CZK 513 million last year, with the most common exports being grain products, electrical machinery, appliances, dairy products, rubber products, pharmaceuticals and fertilizers.

Imports to the Czech Republic from the Caribbean island – including tobacco products, medicines, coffee, cocoa and fish – amounted to CZK 268 million.