Cuba's featuring new Mariel port at Havana trade fair

Cuba intends to use its annual trade fair, which opens Sunday, to showcase its soon-to-open Mariel megaport for potential foreign investors.

Hundreds of companies will display their wares at the show, but the highlight is expected to be the government's presentation Tuesday of the Mariel project.

Built with technical and financial help from Brazil, the expanded port is to be inaugurated in January by Cuban President Raul Castro and his Brazilian counterpart Dilma Rousseff.

In addition to port facilities capable of handling large container ships, Mariel will have a duty-free zone where foreign-owned factories can produce goods for other markets.

Cuba hopes to lure foreign investors and establish itself as a regional hub for shipments from Asia after an expansion of the Panama Canal is completed in 2015.

Panama, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic all have similar large port projects, with each positioning to serve as transshipment hubs.

But Cuban economist Pedro Monreal says M ariel, located 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Havana, is ideally situated "to become the biggest Caribbean mega port, given the combination of geography, quality of workforce and wide availability of space for future expansion."

The China Council for the Promotion of International Trade is encouraging both "private sector and state firms" to "establish joint projects" with Mariel, said Ma Kequiang, an attache at the Chinese embassy in Havana, quoted in the Cuban press.

Before the trade expo, Cuba's minister of foreign trade and foreign investment, Rodrigo Malmierca, toured Vietnam, China and Russia to promote investment opportunities, and other officials say Brazil is interested in investing in Mariel's duty-free zone.

Meanwhile, some 1,400 companies from 64 countries plus hundreds of Cuban companies have signed up to participate in the Havana International Fair, which runs from November 3 to 9.

Organizers say the largest number of exhibitors will come from Spain, Venezuela, Brazil and Germany.