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Cuba Moves Toward Wholesale For Small Businesses

HAVANA (AP) â¿¿ Cuba is shuttering a state-run company that supplied government businesses at wholesale and is replacing it with a new entity that will also work with the growing ranks of private entrepreneurs and independent cooperatives.

The Ministry of Commerce resolution, enacted recently with its publication in the Official Gazette, is a step toward addressing one of the biggest complaints of the more than 400,000 private-sector workers who are in business under President Raul Castro's drive to restructure the socialist economy.

Analysts and small business owners themselves have called the lack of wholesale goods a major obstacle to the development of the island's budding entrepreneurial class.

Until now, small businesses have had no choice but to purchase supplies at high retail prices or rely on so-called mules, individuals who make frequent trips to countries like the United States or Ecuador and return with luggage stuffed with goods.

The Feb. 14-dated resolution says the new wholesale entity will be able to deal in either of the two currencies that Cuba uses in its unique dual-currency system. It will be able to sell everything from foodstuffs to big-ticket items like computers, and also offer warehousing and refrigeration services.

It apparently will begin operation sometime in the second quarter of this year.

Castro launched his social and economic reform program in 2010 in recognition of the need to make Cuba's plodding, centralized economy more efficient.

He has already opened space for independent workers and cooperatives, legalized home and car sales, leased out idle state land to private growers and eased much-hated restrictions on foreign travel.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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