India offering support for refinery project in Cuba


Malmierca, Scindia, talking business in Havana

India is interested in facilitating construction of an oil refinery in western Cuba, Commerce and Industry Minister Jyotiraditya M. Scindia said during a visit in Havana.

Cuvenpetrol, a Cuban-Venezuelan joint venture, is proposing to build a new, 150,000 barrel-per-day refinery in Matanzas, on west-central Cuba’s northern coast, estimated at $7.57 billion. The joint venture has also sought Chinese participation in the $5.44 billion expansion of a refinery in Cienfuegos. 

Scindia told Cuban Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca that India is willing to provide know-how and equity for a refinery project in western Cuba, the Times of India reported. State-owned Engineers India Ltd. has currently six refinery projects underway, and Indian Oil Co. Ltd., which owns seven refineries in India, offers operating support. 

Scindia also urged Cuban officials to facilitate an extension of an offshore lease by Indian state oil company ONGC Videsh Ltd. (OVL), which is set to expire Sept. 10, according to the Times. Cuban officials said that a decision about OVL’s request is expected shortly, the Indian newspaper said. OVL leased two offshore blocks just west of Havana in 2006 and completed 2D and 3D surveying last year, spending more than $43 million, according to the company; however, it hasn’t contracted the Scarabeo 9 platform, which is set to leave Cuba after completing two more drills. OVL was also a junior partner in a consortium with Repsol, which failed to find oil in one recent exploratory drill.

Scindia came to Cuba via Venezuela, where he announced a $2.2 billion investment by ONGC Videsh for exploration and production in the Orinoco heavy-oil belt.

During his visit to Havana, Scindia was accompanied by a 25-member business delegation. 

The minister particularly highlighted energy and mining as two sectors where Indian companies can participate in Cuba, “through investment in exploration, production, refining and marketing,” according to a statement by the Indian Ministry of Commerce and Industry. He also offered support in construction of railway and airport projects in Cuba, and the sale of Indian-made urban buses, the statement said. The Cuban side, in turn, sought Indian expertise in nickel, cobalt and tungsten mining. 

Cuba proposed seven projects to the delegation, including joint ventures in oil and gas, polymers and plastics, paper manufacturing, and tourism, according to Prensa Latina. At the meeting with Malmierca, Scindia also discussed renewable energy, irrigation, fire protection, sugar, automotives, and pharmaceuticals as potential areas of cooperation, according to the statement from India’s Commerce and Industry Ministry.

The Indian government is raising trade guarantees to Cuba from $12 million to $17 million, the minister announced during the visit. Although bilateral trade is at just $40 million, it rose 24 percent last year, said Deputy Foreign Trade Minister Orlando Hernández Guillén, according to Prensa Latina. 

Cuban officials also asked for eased visa regulations for Cuban business travelers; Scindia invited Cuban companies to participate in a trade fair in India this fall.

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