Friday, August 27, 2010

Cuba expands free-market reforms

The Cuban government has issued two free-market reforms aimed at boosting its struggling economy, including allowing foreign investors to lease state-owned land for up to 99 years.

The moves, announced in the official Gazette newspaper on Thursday and Friday, are considered a significant shift for the country as Raul Castro, the country's president, promises to scale back government control of businesses.

The government has said it was modifying its property laws "with the aim of amplifying and facilitating" foreign investment in tourism, and that doing so would provide "better security and guarantees to the foreign investor".

A small group of investors in Canada, Europe and Asia have been waiting to crack the market for long-term tourism in Cuba, built on drawing wealthy visitors who could live part-time on the island instead of visiting for a few days.

Golf tourism

It may also help the country embrace golf tourism.

Investment firms have for decades proposed building 18-hole courses ringed by luxury housing under long-term government leases.

Cuba currently has just two golf courses nationwide, but the tourism ministry has said it wants to build at least 10 more.

"I think this is huge. This is probably one of the most significant movesin recent years relative to attracting foreign investment,'' Robin Conners, CEO of Vancouver-based Leisure Canada, told the Associated Press.

The company plans to begin construction next year on a luxury hotel in Havana and also wants to build hotels, villas and two championship golf courses on a stretch of beach in Jibacoa, 60km to the east.

Cuba has allowed leases of state land for up to 50 years with the option to extend them for an additional 25, but foreign investors had long pressed tourism officials to endorse 99-year deals to provide additional peace of mind to investors.

The longer leases also mean lower interest rates on international banking mortgages.


Another decree put forward allows the expanded sale of farm products, and could have far greater impact on ordinary Cubans.

It authorises them to produce their own agricultural goods - from melons to milk - and sell them from home or in kiosks.

They must pay taxes on any earnings.

It is also the first major expansion of self-employment rules since Castro said in an address before parliament on August 1 that the government would reduce state controls on small businesses - a significant development in a country where about 95 per cent of people work for the state.

The new rules are consistent with other efforts by Castro's government, which has allowed minor free-market openings while also seeking to eliminate black-market income.

It has also been made easier to obtain permits for home improvements and increased access to building materials, while more strictly enforcing prohibitions against illegal building.

From: Aljazeera

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