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Cuba’s Imports From China Slump 40% in 2020, Extending Long Decline

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Cuba’s imports from China tumbled to US$483 million last year versus US$791 million in 2019, according to data from the Chinese Customs Office, extending a steep five-year decline as the island’s economy reels from U.S. sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.

The two Communist-led countries remain political allies and economic partners
The two Communist-led countries remain political allies and economic partners. (Photo internet reproduction)

Cuba is dependent on imports for much of its consumption, but it began falling behind on payments to foreign suppliers from 2015 as support ebbed from ally Venezuela due to its own economic woes.

The Chinese government previously reported that exports to Cuba had declined from nearly US$1.9 billion in 2015 to US$1.1 billion in 2018.

The Customs Office data put China’s imports from Cuba at US$472 million, similar to 2019, meaning overall trade was below a billion dollars, the lowest in more than a decade.

Cuba exports mainly sugar and nickel to China. It imports a broad array of supplies from machinery and transportation equipment to raw materials and food.

The two Communist-led countries remain political allies and economic partners, with China investing in alternative energy in Cuba and development financing in light industry, communications and other areas. Cuba has three pharmaceutical ventures in China.

But according to five diplomats and businessmen active in Cuba, their Chinese peers have for years expressed frustration with Cuban business practices and payment problems.

Cuba has hesitated to adopt market oriented reforms similar to the other five remaining Communist countries, all located in Asia.

Three of the sources, who requested anonymity, said last year’s decline in Chinese exports had more to do with payment issues than the new coronavirus, pointing out that Chinese exports to the region had declined less than a percent.

“The Cubans have no money. The Chinese government will no longer cover trade and their companies want to be paid,” a European businessman said.

Neither the Cuban government nor Chinese commercial office in Havana responded to requests for comment.


Tough U.S. sanctions and the pandemic, which has gutted tourism, have cut into Cuban foreign exchange earnings, causing scarcity, job losses and an 11% economic contraction in 2020.

The government reported that foreign exchange earnings were just 55% of planned levels last year, while imports fell between 30% and 40%. It did not provide further details.

China is one of Cuba’s top three trading partners, along with Venezuela and Spain. Venezuela’s trade with Cuba has declined in recent years, though no data for 2020 is available, while Spain’s had risen through 2018 and then leveled off.

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