Cuba sees economy growing 3.1 pct in 2012, below forecast

Mon Dec 3, 2012 12:38pm EST

* Increase of 3.1 pct in GDP falls short of plan

* Economic growth forecast at 3.7 percent for 2013

* Reforms' impact a bit below expectations

HAVANA, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Growth in the Cuban economy will come in at 3.1 percent this year, slightly less than the government's forecast of 3.4 percent as market-oriented reforms aimed at stimulating the state-dominated economy continue to perform below expectations.

A summary of a Council of Ministers meeting on Friday, and published Monday by the Communist Party daily, Granma, blamed a poor performance by the construction sector for the economy's failure to meet the government's growth target.

"The growth expected will not be reached fundamentally due to construction, which did not meet its plan," Economy Minister Adel Yzquierdo was quoted as saying at the meeting.

The article said agriculture had also underperformed.

However, austerity measures and their impact on social services also appeared partly to blame.

President Raul Castro began to reform the Soviet-style economy after taking over for his ailing brother, Fidel, in 2008. He has slashed imports by 37.5 percent as his government has struggled to pay its bills while trying to spur economic growth.

Cuba is reducing the state's administration of the retail sector in favor of small businesses and cooperatives, and is leasing vast tracks of fallow land to would-be farmers.

The government wants to cut 20 percent of the 5 million strong state labor force, which accounts for around 85 percent of all workers, and move them into "non-state" jobs in retail services and food production.

The country registered $2 billion surpluses for each of 2009 and 2010 in its current account, which measures the inflow and outflow of foreign exchange, reversing a $500 million deficit in 2008.

No information was available for 2011, but local economists said the positive trend continued even as official statistics revealed steep cuts in social services.

Cuba's unique formula for calculating economic growth includes estimates of the worth of free health and education.

Granma said social services remained at 2011 levels, but then quoted Izquierdo as stating, "the rest of the economy grew 4.5 percent, which is in line with our policy of increasing material production and guaranteeing social services with greater efficiency."

Growth was 2.7 percent in 2011, compared with the government's 3 percent forecast, while plans call for the economy to grow 3.7 percent in 2013, Granma reported.

The government had hoped that by 2013 the economy would be growing by at least 5 percent as market-oriented reforms kicked in, Communist Party sources said.

Local economists say the economy must grow by more than 5 percent to overcome the damage wrought by the years of crisis that followed the demise of Cuba's former benefactor, the Soviet Union.

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