Cuba Foreign Trade Part I

With 110,800 square kilometers (around a third of the area of ​​Germany) and 11.2 million residents (as of 2103), Cuba is the largest and most populous island in the Caribbean. It belongs to the Greater Antilles and is only separated from the USA by the Florida Strait, which is a maximum of 200 kilometers wide.

Apart from some mountain forests and the coastal swamps or mangroves, practically the entire area of ​​Cuba is used for agriculture (natural meadow, arable farming). In the mountain areas in the south-east, in the center and in the north-west, the infrastructure is only poorly developed, the other areas have been developed.

The economic and social development of Cuba is characterized by extensive upheavals around 1960 and around 1990, these were, among other things, connected with a fundamental change in the economic framework and the exchange of the dominant foreign trade partners. If the USA dominated until 1960, then it was the Soviet Union and its allies. At present, China and Venezuela have a special position. This becomes clear, for example, in foreign trade in sugar cane. It turns out that the external economic relations were and are formative for the spatial development of Cuba. Many products, including food and industrial products, are not manufactured in the country but are imported. In return, Cuba exports agricultural products and raw materials,


The soils of Cuba are predominantly deep, heavily weathered ferralsole, the fertility of which is low due to acidification and lack of nutrients. The climate is tropical with annual mean temperatures around 25 ° C and rainfall of 900 to 2100 millimeters. Around 70 percent of the precipitation falls between May and October.

The comparatively dry months between November and April and cyclones in autumn put the otherwise favorable climatic conditions for agricultural use into perspective and can cause large production fluctuations.

The climate allows year-round and varied agricultural use. Large plantations predominate in the flat areas, where mainly sugar cane is grown. Tobacco, rice, fruits and vegetables are also produced. There are a number of diverse agroforestry operations in the mountains that grow coffee and cocoa.


The efforts to increase production and the hesitant opening up to foreign investors brought economic stabilization and recovery, but did not end the general supply crisis. The tourism sector in particular experienced significant growth. The number of guests increased nine-fold from 336,000 in 1991 to 3 million in 2014. Income from tourism has now reached a significant level of 2.6 billion US dollars (as of 2012). Another important source of income for Cuba is nickel mining and smelting, because the island has around 15 percent of all nickel ores worldwide that can currently be mined economically. In terms of nickel ore mining, the country was ranked 10th in the world (2014: 71,000 t).

Cuba has a poorly developed industrial base. Sugar factories and tobacco processing are linked to agriculture, and their locations are spread all over the country. In addition, only a few of the large cities, especially the capital Havana, and the mining region in the east have any industrial approaches.

The informal sector is important for generating income for private households, but there are no exact figures on this. A major source of foreign currency are remittances from people abroad who support their family members living in Cuba. This results in socio-economic differentiation processes: Cubans who regularly receive support from abroad are usually much better off. In general, traditional labor incomes offer only limited purchasing power, while foreign exchange and black market activities alleviate economic hardship more quickly.

The education and health systems – by far the best in Central America for decades – have been restricted by the crisis, but still function at a relatively high level. This is one reason why Cuba is classified as a highly developed country according to the HDI (2012: HDI rank 59; corresponds roughly to Saudi Arabia, Mexico or Russia). However, significant investments are needed to maintain the quality of these achievements in the future.

Diversification programs in agriculture, the re-establishment of the farmers’ markets in the cities, the promotion of renewable energies and private-sector production in the small craft sector had positive effects on supply. The partnership with Venezuela, with which Cuba exchanges oil for medical services, also eased the situation. In addition, China is an increasingly important trading partner. Following the setbacks caused by the hurricanes in 2008, there are now increasing signs of a slight economic recovery in Cuba. The emerging easing of political relations with the USA is also currently having a positive effect. However, agriculture and industry have to struggle with persistently large internal structural problems, not least with corruption, mismanagement, inadequate infrastructure and lack of investment funds. To date, comparatively little has changed in the Cuban political system.

Cuba Foreign Trade 1