MEXICO CITY — Sidel de Mexico, the local offshoot of the French PET blow molding machinery manufacturer, has found a ``rewarding niche market'' in Cuba, says sales director Luis Castellanos.
In three years of trading with the Communist-ruled island, Castellanos has sold five machines for carbonated soft drinks and water bottles. ``Sales over that period have been about $4 [million]-$5 million,'' he said.
That figure may be only a drop in the ocean compared with what Castellanos sells in a Mexican market that Sidel claims to dominate.
``But the growth potential is enormous,'' said Castellanos, for whom the field in Cuba is free of U.S. competition.
Since 1961, as it became clear that Fidel Castro was allying with the Soviet Union, the United States has maintained a strict trade embargo on Cuba. Even now, Sidel is careful not to offend U.S. sensitivities.
``We handle Cuba out of Mexico, as we do Central America. But the rest of the Caribbean, markets such as Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, are dealt with out of our U.S. office,'' Castellanos said in an interview at the Plastimagen trade show in Mexico City.
Sidel's Cuban customers are Spanish and Italian joint ventures with the Cuban state, permitted in recent years under a partial opening to foreign investment that followed the collapse of Castro's former Soviet benefactors.
Negotiations with the Cubans can be difficult. Anyone who does business overseas readily becomes aware of cultural differences, Castellanos said, but in Cuba these are exacerbated by the presence of joint venture partners from a Communist state.
One of Cuba's attractions for European companies is that they can get a foot in the door of a market of 10 million consumers that has almost unlimited potential for growth.
Under current restrictions, U.S. competitors will have to wait on the sidelines till Castro goes or his regime makes a radical policy about-turn.