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Cuba acts to draw more foreign investors

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
March 31, 2014 -- Updated 1648 GMT (0048 HKT)
Tourists travel in a taxi, on January 8, 2014 in Havana. Cuban lawmakers approved an international investment measure.
Tourists travel in a taxi, on January 8, 2014 in Havana. Cuban lawmakers approved an international investment measure.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Cuban lawmakers approve foreign investment law
  • They want to bring pep to anemic economy
  • Measure includes lower taxes

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- Few would say Cuba is an easy place to do business, but a new law aimed at bringing pep to an anemic economy may lure more foreign investors.

Cuban lawmakers Saturday approved an international investment measure.

Vice President Marino Murillo Jorge, the economy czar, said that while Cuba would open further to investment, the government would retain a strong hand in dealing with investors.

"The state will always be a participant to avoid the concentration of property," Murillo said in televised remarks Saturday.

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According to state media reports, 576 members of Cuba's National Assembly gathered for a special session to consider the international investment law.

Officials said greater international investment was necessary to expand the island's stagnant economy, which grew at 2.7% last year, below official predictions. Cuban officials say the country needs to grow at 7% annually in order to sufficiently expand the economy.

Members of the international media were not given access to the session.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba allowed private enterprise and international investment, which had been forbidden shortly after the 1959 revolution that swept Fidel Castro to power.

But the return of capitalism to the island has had mixed results, with dozens of international investors arrested in corruption probes and others leaving the island frustrated over the endless red tape and lack of governmental protections for private industry.

The new law would lower taxes on international investors and remove some of the entrenched bureaucracy and lack of transparency that is part of doing business with the island's communist-style centralized economy.

"[The investment law] will attract foreign capital with clear rules and respect national sovereignty in a mutually beneficial way," said External Trade Minister Ricardo Malmierca, according to the state-run website Cubadebate.

Maintaining strong controls

Cuban president Raul Castro was seen in photographs the government released voting in favor of the measure.

Full details of the new law will not be published for another 90 days, state media said.

The law would permit investment in all area of the Cuban economy except for health care and education, according to state media reports.

But all international investment still would need approval from government officials.

However, officials promised the approved law would speed up the approval process for new investments.

Government-controlled media reported that several forms of investment would be permitted, including enterprises wholly owned by international investors.

However, in practice, the Cuban government only permits international investors to hold minority interests in joint ventures with the government.

The new law is meant for international investors only and does not apply to Cubans, who the government does not permit to form companies and make large-scale investments on the island.

However, during the discussion of the law Saturday, External Trade Minister Malmierca said Cuban exiles might be allowed to invest in the country they had left.

"As long as it involves people who do not have adverse positions to the revolution and are not part of the Miami terrorist mafia," he said using a term commonly used by Cuban government officials refer to exiles who are in opposition to the island's single party form of government.

The five-decades-old U.S. trade embargo forbids most forms of commerce between American companies and Cuba.

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