by Raimundo Urrechaga
HAVANA, Oct. 30 (Xinhua) -- Cuba's special development zone of Mariel (ZEDM) has attracted record high foreign investment in 2018, drawing over 470 million U.S. dollars in new business ventures.
On the sidelines of the Havana International Trade Fair which kicked off on Monday, Mariel administrators spoke highly of the latest developments at the industrial park and deep water port, such as the entry of 10 new businesses, including the first Chinese company to establish an outpost there.
"We have attracted over 1.6 billion U.S. dollars in the past five years and in 2018 in particular, we have doubled the average amount (of investment) since the zone began operating in 2013," Wendy Miranda, director of coordination and processing at the ZEDM told Xinhua.
According to the Cuban official, the new companies are in fields of construction, technology and industry.
Among them are wholly foreign-financed enterprises, including the China Communications Construction Company and companies from Spain, Vietnam, Chile and El Salvador.
Several joint ventures were also established at Mariel, including glass container manufacturer Vidrios Mariel (Cuba-Italy) and medicine producer Innovative Immunotherapy Alliance (Cuba-U.S.).
Dino Bombardell, representative of Vidrios Mariel, told Xinhua that after 20 years of working in Cuba, the company decided to take the "ambitious step" of transforming itself from a distributor of glass containers to a producer.
"We are very pleased with the confidence, professionalism, support, facilities and security that Cuba and the ZEDM have given us to realize our dream and set up our own company in Mariel," said Bombardell.
Douglas Plessinger, business director of Innovative Immunotherapy Alliance (IIA), a partnership between the island's Center for Molecular Immunology and the U.S.-based Roswell Park Cancer Institute, said the new joint venture is very encouraging.
Despite the obstacles presented by the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba and the setback in bilateral ties under the current U.S. administration, the new company aims to speed up research and development in drugs against cancer.
"IIA constitutes a milestone in ties between the two countries and opens infinite possibilities for tens of thousands of patients suffering from this deadly disease in the U.S.," he said.
The two countries have long collaborated in the medical field. A Cuban vaccine against lung cancer, Cimavax-EGF, is currently undergoing phase 2 clinical trials in the United States.
"We are working together to develop three other innovative products that are very important and can play a very significant role in improving the quality of life of cancer patients and survival rates," Plessinger said.
As Mariel grows, it will have a positive impact on the local economy and consumers in Cuba, said Miranda.
"With the production of goods and services, as well as industrial development, users of the ZEDM will need raw materials from local entities, giving Cuban industry a fresh shot in the arm," she said.
Considered the "driving force" of the Cuban economy over the next few years, the ZEDM now has 41 authorized companies: 23 foreign-owned companies, five Cuban firms, 13 joint ventures and international partnerships.
Modeled on special economic zones in other countries, the ZEDM offers foreign investors incentives, including tax breaks for 10 years and major discounts on sales and services during the first year of operations.
Mariel features a modern port and container terminal inaugurated in early 2014 as part of a joint venture between the Cuban government and Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.
Cuba aims to attract around 2 billion U.S. dollars in foreign investment each year, though it has yet to reach that goal.
A new foreign investment law approved by Cuba's parliament in 2014 was designed to make investing in Cuba more attractive by reducing red tape and introducing other benefits.