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China becomes top market for Cuba's legendary cigars

By Reuters | May 5th 2021

Cigars from Cuban luxury tobacco brand Cohiba are on display at a tobacco shop in Hanau, Germany, (Photo: Reuters)

Cuba's state cigar monopoly, Habanos S.A., said on Tuesday that China had displaced Spain last year as its top market but rising demand in the Asian giant could not compensate for declines in sales elsewhere, with global revenue down 4 per cent to $507 million.

Curbs on travel last year due to the pandemic dealt a serious blow to demand from countries reliant on tourism as well as sales at duty free, Habanos said in a statement.

Cuba's hand-rolled cigars, which include brands such as Cohiba, Montecristo and Partagas, are considered by many as the best in the world.

Habanos usually holds a festival early in the year for wealthy tobacco aficionados and retailers during which they tour plantations and factories and meet in the evenings to puff on Cuban smokes at extravagant parties.

This year, though, with Cuba grappling with its worst outbreak of COVID-19 yet and other countries also struggling to curb contagion, it is instead holding three days of virtual events, which kicked off on Tuesday.

"2020 has been a challenging year not just for our business but for the whole of humanity," Habanos said in a statement.

Cigars are one of the top exports for the Cuban economy, which shrank 11 per cent last year as the pandemic and increased U.S. sanctions exacerbated the cash crunch.

The Caribbean island cannot sell its signature export to the biggest market worldwide for cigars, the United States, due to the decades-old U.S. trade embargo.

Europe remains the top regional market for Habanos, accounting for 50 per cent of sales, followed by the Asian-Pacific area, which accounts for 16.2 per cent, according to the statement.

The state-run Cuban News Agency cited Habanos officials at the event on Tuesday as saying that sales in Europe and Asia-Pacific had risen 2 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively. Revenue dropped 31 per cent in Africa and the Middle East, however, and 21 per cent in the Americas.

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