Unilever returns to Cuba in joint venture with state

Mon Jan 11, 2016 6:46pm EST
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By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - Global consumer products company Unilever Plc (UNc.AS: Quote)(ULVR.L: Quote) will return to Cuba after a several-year absence, agreeing on Monday to build a $35 million soap and toothpaste factory in Cuba's special development zone at the port of Mariel west of Havana.

The Dutch-British company left Cuba in 2012 in a dispute over who would have the controlling interest in their joint venture. Now Unilever NV will have a majority 60 percent stake compared to 40 percent for the Cuban state company Intersuchel S.A.

At the time of the dispute, Cuba's Communist government preferred the state hold a majority stake in joint ventures with foreign companies, but Cuba has become more flexible since opening the Chinese-style Mariel Special Development Zone two years ago.

The factory, due to open by 2018, will make products such as Sedal shampoo, Rexona deodorant, Omo detergent, Lux soap and Close-Up toothpaste, the company said in statement.

The signing ceremony took place during a visit to Cuba by Dutch Foreign Trade Minister Lilianne Ploumen at the head of a delegation including some 60 businesses.

The Netherlands and other European countries have expressed increased interest in the Caribbean island since Cuba reached detente with the United States just over a year ago.

Ploumen told reporters she hoped Unilever would be the first of several Dutch companies to set up shop in Cuba.

Unilever is the ninth and best-known firm to receive approval to operate at the Mariel zone, which has a modern container port.   Continued...

TDutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Lilianne Ploumen addresses the media during a news conference at the Mariel Port in Artemisa province, Cuba, January 11, 2016. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa