Cuba Cancels Economic Fair as Imports Plummet

Cash-strapped Cuba has canceled its annual international trade and investment fair slated for November due to the pandemic, state-run media reported on Friday, even as fallout from the novel coronavirus hammers revenues and imports.

Container traffic at the port of Mariel, responsible for 90% of containers entering the country, was down between 20% and 25% through May, compared with the same period last year, according to a shipping source with access to the data.

Cuba does not reveal key economic information in a timely manner, saying the information would be used against the country in applying U.S. sanctions.

The country, which depends on foreign exchange to import more than 50% of the food and fuel it consumes, and raw materials and packaging for just about everything else, shuttered tourism, a key foreign exchange earner, in March and has been in partial lockdown since.

Food, hygiene and medicine shortages due largely to U.S. sanctions have become much worse, leading to waits for hours to purchase basic goods when available.

Among the Communist-led country’s top five commercial partners, China reported exports to Cuba fell 55% through April compared with the same period last year, while Spain and the European Union reported exports through March down a bit less than 30% through March.

Among the Caribbean island’s top 10 commercial partners, the United States reported food sales for cash, allowed under the trade embargo, were down 48% through April, while Canada reported a 17.5% decline.

Outside analysts such as the United Nations and the Economist Intelligence Unit have forecast a recession of around 4% to 6% after 0.5% growth in 2019.

“I think the drop in gross domestic product will be around 8% to 10%,” said Pavel Vidal, a former Cuban central bank economist who teaches at Colombia’s Universidad Javeriana Cali.

(Reporting by Marc Frank; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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