About 50 Dominican companies that operate in duty-free zones and a U.S. delegation from the state of Arkansas recently held talks in Havana to establish or increase trade with Cuba.

The Dominican business delegation is the largest and most diverse that has ever come to Cuba, the Dominican Deputy Minister for Economic Affairs and Business Negotiations, César Dargam, said.

About 50 Dominican companies that operate in duty-free zones and a U.S. delegation from the state of Arkansas recently held talks in Havana to establish or increase trade with Cuba.The Arkansas delegation was led by Agriculture Secretary, Wes Ward, and the talks were a continuation of those opened by Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson in Havana in 2015.

The delegation recognized the great prospects that exist for Arkansas to sell agricultural items and foodstuffs in general to the island and that such trade is negatively affected by the U.S. blockade of Cuba, they commented.

María de la Luz B‘Hamel, the Foreign Trade and Investment Ministry’s director for North America said that Washington’s restrictions make U.S. products less competitive.

She also said that executive measures approved by U.S Department of Commerce regulating bodies to ease the situation are insufficient.

Both Ward and the president and CEO of the Arkansas World Trade Center Arkansas (WTCK), Dan Hendrix, expressed their willingness to continue building mutually beneficial economic relations.

The director of the Havana World Trade Center, Omar Fernández, said during the talks that this is the second time in less than a year that WTCK representatives had come to Havana, accompanied this time by experts from the academic and technological sectors.

The Dominican Republic delegation included businesspeople from the manufacturing, pharmaceutical, agroindustrial and construction sectors, as well as companies that offer financial, legal, catering, logistic and engineering services.

Deputy Minister Dargam noted that the business delegation was representative of his country’s duty-free zones that are one of the spearheads of GDP growth.

Luisa Fernández, director of the National Duty-free Zones Council, told The Havana Reporter that the talks’ primary objectives were to identify potential distributors in Cuba for Dominican products, and to establish contacts for the creation joint ventures and other alliances to support chains of production.

She emphasized that a further objective was to analyze potential ties between the Mariel Special Development Zone in western Cuba and the Dominican duty-free zones.

According to José Manuel Torres, executive vice president of the Dominican Duty-free Zones Association, production chains would be beneficial because they would facilitate the exploitation of Cuba’s potential in the research and development of new products, as well as his country’s manufacturing capacity.

He told The Havana Reporter that dutyfree zones are scattered over almost all the country and have a presence in 26 of the country’s 32 provinces. He added that they accommodate 630 companies that generate 170,000 direct jobs. In 2015 their exports exceeded $5.5 billion (thousand million); equivalent to almost 60 percent of all the country’s foreign sales.

According to official statistics, Cuba-Dominican Republic the trade between 2011 and 2015 was worth $385.9 million, $196.6 million of which related to Dominican exports.

Over the past three years, the trade balance has favored the Dominican Republic and in 2015 it showed a margin mof $15.4 million.

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