Cuba – new investment destination of Vietnamese firms

Cuba has emerged as the third biggest investment destination of Vietnamese enterprises after Laos and Cambodia.

According to the Foreign Investment Agency (FIA) under the Ministry of Planning and Investment, Vietnamese firms registered to invest 19.9 million USD in Cuba in the first four months of 2018 despite geographical distance.

This move is expected to open a new door with numerous business cooperation opportunities for the two countries.

The FIA revealed some investment projects of Vietnam in the new market including an oil and gas exploration project of PetroVietnam Exploration Production Corporation (PVEP) and diaper and washing powder production projects at Mariel Special Economic Development Zone of Thai Binh Company.

Several years ago, Cuba had been forecast to be an emerging market after Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. There is plenty of room in this market and the Cuban government has repeatedly called on Vietnamese enterprises to make investment in the nation.

The opportunities have become more obvious after the visit to Cuba by Secretary General of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) Central Committee Nguyen Phu Trong in March 2018 with a number of cooperation agreements signed.

Particularly, Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade and Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment inked an agreement concluding the official negotiation between the two countries on a new bilateral free trade agreement (FTA).

The two sides pledged to conduct legal revisions to bring the FTA into force as soon as possible to support trade growth and attract investment.

Experts said these are important moves to boost Vietnam-Cuba trade and investment relations.

According to the FIA, Vietnamese firms poured 153.6 million USD abroad in the first four months of 2018. The figure included nearly 129 million USD in newly-registered capital and 24.6 million USD in increased capital.

Vietnam injected 80.12 million USD in Laos, making up 52.2 percent of the total investment capital, and 25.9 million USD in Cambodia in the January-April period.

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Cuba, Saudi Arabia Strengthen Friendship and Cooperation Ties

Cuba and Saudi Arabia are showing today a progress in their friendship and cooperation ties with the recent visit to the Caribbean island of Arabian Foreign Minister, Adel al Jubeir.

Al Jubeir and President Raul Castro highlighted yesterday the positive level of relations between the two countries and expressed the will to continue developing them.

Prior to this meeting, Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, received the visitor at the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he highlighted Cuba and Saudi Arabia's interest to strengthen ties.

His visit, the first of a Saudi foreign minister to Havana, will surely contribute to develop such ties, Rodriguez told reporters.

He also affirmed that the Cuban government appreciates the cooperation projects together with the Saudi Fund for Development and reiterated the Caribbean nation's support to the just causes of the Arab peoples, particularly the Palestinian people.

The Saudi foreign minister advocated for working to increase investments and collaboration in different fields between Havana and Riyadh.

Cuban Vice President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Economy and Planning, Ricardo Cabrisas, also received Al Jubeir yesterday.

In recent years, Cuba and Saudi Arabia have taken steps to strengthen their relations, including the signing of agreements on economic matters.

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Ghana, Cuba to join forces to fight malaria

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Cuba, France Sign Agreement to Strengthen Academic Cooperation

Cuban ambassador to France, Elio Rodríguez, and the rector of the Academy of Paris, Gilles Pécout, have signed an agreement aimed at strengthening academic cooperation between the parties, diplomatic sources informed today.

According to a statement, the deal was signed at the headquarters of the Paris-Sorbonne University, in order to also promote exchange in the technical-professional training.

The two officials agreed to highlight the positive state of the academic and university ties between Cuba and France, and reiterated the will to continue strengthening them.



A representation of professors and students of the Lycee Hotelier Guillaume Tirel, which cooperates with the schools of the system for professional tourism training in Cuba, Formatur, transferred their positive impressions on the internship carried out on the island last year.

Authorities of the Academy of Paris, such as its director, Jean-Michel Coignard, and officials of the Cuban embassy in France, attended the ceremony.

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Cuba exports medicine to dozens of countries. It would like the U.S. to be one of them

Cuba now exports vaccines, diagnostic kits and drugs developed by its Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology — the largest research center on the island — to 51 countries. But except for a small shipment for a clinical trial, the United States isn’t one of them.

Scientists at this sprawling research center in Havana’s Cubanacan section would like to change that. They see the United States as a natural market where diabetics and those suffering from various forms of cancer are losing out on treatments developed at the pioneering center that is known by its Spanish acronym as CIGB.

For cash-strapped Cuba, the equation is simple: The United States is not only close but has an enormous number of patients that could benefit from drugs and vaccines developed against all odds at the island’s premier research center — and exporting those products to the U.S. market could generate revenue.

“Sometimes I don’t understand why our countries aren’t taking advantage of such a good opportunity to work together,” said Manuel Rafael Raices Perez-Castaneda, a biologist and business development director at the center. “We face similar problems. Why not focus on the problems we can solve together and not the differences?”

Cuban researchers have been able to develop treatments that are showing potential around the world — and despite the embargo and the chill in U.S.-Cuba relations, they’re very interested in the U.S. market. The first clinical trial of a Cuban-developed vaccine for lung cancer is underway at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y.

Even though 99 patents for Cuban biotech products had been approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office through December 2015, no Cuban drugs are currently registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or sold in the United States.

The registration process is complex and expensive, so Cuba has chosen to enter other markets where it is easier to gain access. Despite Cuba’s desire to get its medicines into the U.S. market, the country has been experiencing domestic pharmaceutical shortages for months and it needs investment to ramp up its pharmaceutical industry.

Cubans say they often get up before dawn and stand in line trying to fill prescriptions or resort to the black market. A recent article in Cuba’s Bohemia magazine blamed the shortages on lack of financing for production, shortages of raw materials, “indiscipline” in the supply chain and lack of controls at the pharmacy level.

Meanwhile, research continues at the CIGB. A vaccine for hepatitis B (Hebernasvac) and Cuban treatments for diabetic foot ulcers and skin cancer are among the Cuban medical innovations that researchers say have the most potential in the U.S. market. But before they can be commercialized, they must undergo U.S. clinical trials approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Cuban scientists say one of their most promising products is Heberprot-P, which is injected as a treatment for diabetic foot ulcers. More than 30 million Americans — about 9.4 percent of the U.S. population — are diabetic, and Cuban researchers say Americans need Heberprot-P as a way to prevent one of the most devastating complications of diabetes: deep ulcers that can penetrate to the bone and lead to gangrene.

One in four U.S. diabetics will develop foot ulcers at some point in their lifetime.

Diabetes often causes nerve damage (neuropathy), and because diabetic patients often lose sensation in their feet and legs, they may not notice a blister or sore until it is infected and difficult to treat. Ulcerations are one of the leading causes of hospitalization for diabetic patients and are often a precursor to amputation.

Every year there are about 108,000 Americans who reach this point and have amputations due to diabetic complications, according to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Using Heberprot-P could prevent an enormous number of amputations in the United States,” said Merardo Pujol Ferrer, business development director for Heber Biotec, the marketing company for CIGB products. Heberprot-P has won patent approval in at least 18 countries, including the United States.

Heberprot-P, which contains recombinant human epidural growth factor (EGF), is injected deep into the wound and essentially creates a non-diabetic micro-environment in the foot that aids in healing. Cuban clinical studies have found that it accelerates healing with no serious side effects and reduces the chances of amputation.

A study of 61 randomly selected diabetic patients by doctors at the Diabetes Ambulatory Care Center at United Christian Hospital in Hong Kong found that using human EGF in combination with good foot care “significantly enhances diabetic foot ulcer wound healing and reduces healing time.” Scientific studies in Turkey, Greece and Vietnam had similar results.

The Cuban scientists were eager to show their before and after pictures. The first showed a gaping red ulcer on a patient’s foot. The second, taken after 83 days, showed that it had cleared up. Over the past three years, around 13,000 patients have been treated with Heberprot-P in Cuba and there have been fewer than 500 major amputations, according to CIGB researchers.

More than 50,000 Cuban patients have been treated with the product overall and nearly 250,000 patients worldwide.

Entrepreneur Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, is among the advocates of Heberprot-P.

“Put simply, Americans are losing lives because they can’t access the scientific development in Cuba, while Cubans are losing opportunities for further advancements through collaboration with the U.S.,” Branson wrote in a November blog post. “By putting health and science over politics, a lot of lives could be saved.”

Branson was introduced to the Cuban research by none other than Fidel Antonio Castro Smirnov, one of the late Fidel Castro’s grandsons and a nuclear physics professor at the University of Computer Sciences in Havana. He filled Branson in during the serial entrepreneur’s recent trip to Cuba.

Cuba began using Heberprot-P injection treatment domestically in 2007. “We’re cutting off the fire before it reaches the forest,” said the CIGB’s Raices. Now hardly anyone in Cuba has these big ulcers because when they’re still small they go running for the doctor.”

Diabetes, if not adequately controlled, can cut people’s life span by a dozen years, said Raices. But the Cuban program, he said, has reduced the life span reduction to only 1.2 years.

Over the years, Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control granted a few licenses to import Heberprot-P for clinical trials, but it’s unclear if any research was actually carried out in the United States.

In 2013, former South Florida Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia supported efforts to bring Heberprot-P to the U.S. for trials. Although Garcia caught political flak from fellow members of the Cuban-American congressional delegation, he said at the time: “This is something that can maybe save lives. This is about medicine. I’m not going to be the guy who decides that people will suffer because of the embargo.”

More than 100 members of Congress signed a letter to former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew urging OFAC authorization for the clinical trials as well as a separate authorization for future sales.

But under a change in regulations in October 2016, a U.S. company no longer needs to request a specific OFAC license for importation of Cuba pharmaceuticals if the FDA approves trials or if it greenlights commercial sales. A few months before last year’s rule change, OFAC granted a small Ohio company, Mercurio Biotec, a license to import the diabetic ulcer therapy for clinical trials. Herald efforts to reach the company via email and phone for comment were unsuccessful.

Cuba held its first international congress on controlling diabetes and its complications in 2010. Six doctors from the United States attended. During the latest congress in 2016, there were 51 U.S. doctors. By the next congress in 2018, Raices said, he’s hopeful a clinical trial of Heberprot-P might be underway in the United States.

“Evidently it’s a lot more difficult now (with the Trump administration),” he said. “Before, the door was open.”

John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said lack of market access is at least partially Cuba’s fault. “I’m incredulous that they’d like to have more opportunities for their exports. They had two years with the Obama administration and the Cuban government did virtually nothing when they could have made something happen.”

Kavulich said the Obama administration also could have done more to foster business relationship with Cuba. “So little was done that it has allowed the Trump administration to have a landscape in which it can be disruptive” and erode the relationship, he said.

Despite the U.S. trade embargo, there is some trade in medicine and medical equipment between Cuba and the United States. But it’s not easy.

Although cash-in-advance payments are no longer required for health care products, there are conditions such as on-site verification and certification that exports are to be used only for the benefit of the Cuban people that make some companies shy away from the additional hurdle. U.S. law also requires a reasonable expectation that any U.S. export not be used for torture or human rights abuses.

During a November speech at the United Nations, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez complained that in the last year Medicuba, Cuba’s importer and exporter of medical supplies, had made requests to purchase supplies from 18 U.S. companies that had refused or never responded to Cuban inquiries.

Those who did respond often cited the embargo as the reason they couldn’t do business with Cuba, he said. But under exceptions to the embargo, food and agricultural products and medicines and medical equipment and supplies have been eligible for export to the island since 1992. Last year, $6.12 million worth of U.S. healthcare products were exported to Cuba, and through October this year $4.59 million worth of such products were sent. Currently there are no imports of Cuban drugs except the CIMAvax for the clinical trial.

“To take it to the next level, Cuba needs to link up to global pharmaceutical and biotech companies,” said Richard Feinberg, a professor of international economic policy at the University of California, San Diego.

Besides Heberprot-P, the CIGB scientists also would like to see these Cuban innovations in the U.S. market: a therapy for non-melanoma skin cancer (CIGB-128) that contains alpha and gamma interferons and is injected three times a week; a hepatitis B vaccine that is widely used in Cuba and has reduced the annual cases of the disease to only about two dozen; and Proctokinasa, a treatment for hemorrhoids.

CIGB-128 is now being used in Cuban policlinics that see a lot of agricultural workers who spend many hours in the sun. “In 60 percent of the cases the lesions disappear,” said Raices. “You know we could create a very positive relation between Cuba and Florida for these treatments.”

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NA leader lauds ambassador’s efforts to tighten Vietnam-Cuba links

National Assembly (NA) Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan received outgoing Cuban Ambassador Herminio Lopez Diaz on August 21, appreciating the diplomat’s contributions to Vietnam-Cuba special traditional relations during his term.

She expressed her delight at the growth of bilateral relations over the past years, noting that political ties have continually been enhanced through the maintenance of delegation exchanges at all levels between the countries’ Parties, States, parliaments, ministries, sectors and localities.

Congratulating Cuba on its political, economic and diplomatic achievements, which have helped create prerequisites for next development stages, she voiced her belief that the Cuban people will obtain even greater achievements in updating their economic model.

At the meeting, Ambassador Herminio Lopez Diaz shared the outcomes of his working term in Vietnam, as well as his sentiment towards the country and people of Vietnam.

Noting the close parliamentary cooperation, he added aside from the thriving political-diplomatic relations, the countries’ cooperation in other spheres, including health care, have also been being promoted.

[Vietnam, Cuba agree to beef up legislative ties]

It’s now a good time for the two countries to increase economic and trade partnerships, he said, adding that the Cuban Embassy and the embassies of other Latin American nations want to establish a centre of Latin American culture in Vietnam.

Chairwoman Ngan and the ambassador agreed that the Vietnam-Cuba solidarity and friendship are a precious asset that the two Parties and nations need to treasure and hand down to future generations.

Herminio Lopez Diaz promised on whichever positions he will hold after returning to Cuba, he will always support and help nurture the time-honoured solidarity and friendship between the two countries

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Cuba to revive mining sector with new lead and zinc mine

A new lead and zinc mine in northwestern Cuba is on track to start production in October as part of the Caribbean island's attempt to revitalize its mining sector, said a representative from Emincar, the government-backed mining company overseeing the project.

While nickel exports are already one of Cuba's main foreign currency earners, the cash-strapped country has untapped potential in other mineral deposits, according to the US Geological Survey.

The $278 million Castellanos mine will produce 100,000 tons of zinc concentrate and 50,000 tons of lead concentrate annually, said executives at Emincar, the joint venture between Swiss-based commodities giant Trafigura and Cuban state firm Geominera.

"We are reviving the small and medium-size mining sector in Cuba from this investment," said Justo Hernández Pérez, Emincar's deputy general manager, during a visit from foreign journalists to the mine in the province of Pinar del Rio.

Many mines, including a gold mine at the site of the new Castellanos mine, were abandoned in the 1990s and 2000s in the wake of the fall of Cuba's then key ally - the former Soviet Union, and the collapse of the economy.

"We are now exploiting the deposit below oxide cap," said Emincar general manager Jose Vila, noting that it could prove profitable once more for gold mines there.

The Castellanos mine holds reserves for 11 years of exploitation, while the nearby Santa Lucia deposit has enough for another 10 years, Vila said. Emincar will go on to exploit that deposit, tweaking its factory accordingly, once the Castellanos mine is exhausted.

In its annual investment portfolio released late last year, Cuba published dozens of opportunities for foreign investors to explore, exploit and commercialize precious metals, base metals and other minerals of interest.

Cuba hopes foreign investment will boost its economy, which managed to climb out of a recession in the first half of 2017. The island is under severe strain due to lower exports and a drop in cheap oil shipments from ally Venezuela.

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Cuban Institutions and IAEA Review Bilateral Cooperation

Dazhu Yang, Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), will visit the Agency of Nuclear Energy and Advanced Technologies (AENTA), as part of his official visit to Cuba.

Yang will meet with AENTA president, Daniel Lopez, to exchange on the state of technical cooperation. Directors of the National Nuclear Safety Center, as well as from the Ministries of Public Health, Food Industry and Agriculture, will also participate.

During his stay on the island, to be run until Friday, March 24th, the head of the IAEA Technical Cooperation Department will visit institutions, which carry out projects with the international entity.

Yang took office on July 1st, 2015 and prior to his current appointment at the Agency, he was a Director of the Africa Division (February 2012-June 2015) and Asia-Pacific Division (February 2009-January 2012).

Prior to joining the IAEA, he held several posts in China, among them that of Director General for International Cooperation, the Atomic Energy Authority of his country and was a Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Chinese Permanent Mission at the IAEA.

Although Cuba has been a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency since its establishment in 1957, it begins to receive benefits for technical cooperation from that entity as of 1977.

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