Cuba sees 2009 economic growth above 4 percent

HAVANA Mon Dec 22, 2008 12:07pm EST

HAVANA Dec 22 (Reuters) - Cuba's economy will grow more than 4 percent in 2009 as new accords with foreign countries and economic reforms compensate for negative international factors, the country's economy minister said.

Economy and Planning Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez said hurricanes and other factors would restrict 2008 economic growth to 4 percent, compared with the planned 7 percent.

"We are going to grow more next year than this year," Rodriguez said in an interview broadcast on Monday by state-run Radio Rebelde.

"The country has important cooperation agreements. Those signed with Venezuela, with Brazil and with Russia. Relations with China will continue and broaden," he said.

Communist Cuba's economy, which grew 7.3 percent in 2007, is more than 90 percent controlled by the state.

Cuba and Venezuela this month announced more than 150 cooperation agreements for 2009 valued at $2 billion, including continued expansion of a joint venture oil refinery and petrochemical complex in central Cienfuegos province.

The presidents of Brazil, Russia and China all visited Cuba over the past few months and said economic relations would broaden in 2009. They gave no details.

Cuba has restructured debt and delayed payments to various foreign companies in recent months, its coffers hit by three powerful hurricanes, falling nickel prices and the international financial crisis.

Rodriguez said growth would also get a boost from reforms undertaken in agriculture and wage policy by President Raul Castro since taking over in February for his ailing brother, Fidel Castro.

Raul Castro has decentralized agriculture, increased prices paid for agricultural products and begun distributing unused state lands with accompanying resources to private farmers, cooperatives and some state-run companies in an effort to reduce soaring food imports.

"Without a doubt the agriculture policy and most importantly substituting food imports will impact the economy," Rodriguez said.

He said the new wage policy that eliminated caps on earnings and tied wages more closely to individual performance would contribute to growth. Additional wage reforms are planned, the minister said without giving details. (Reporting by Marc Frank; editing by Tom Brown and Mohammad Zargham)

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