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24th Aug 2019

EU to open trade talks with Cuba

  • The EU is Cuba's second-biggest trading partner after Venezuela, accounting for 20 percent of total Cuban trade (Photo: wikipedia)

EU foreign ministers on Monday (10 February) agreed to open talks on a trade and political relationship with Cuba, raising the prospect of a new era in relations between Brussels and Havana.

The talks on a so-called "Bilateral Political Dialogue and Co-operation Agreement", which could start as early as next month, are expected to focus on increasing trade and investment, as well as human rights on the Caribbean island.

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"These negotiations will help consolidate our engagement with Cuba," EU foreign affairs chief Cathy Ashton said in a statement.

However, she warned that human rights remained "at the core" of any future EU-Cuban relationship.

"I hope Cuba will do what is necessary on its side, especially on ... human rights," she said, adding that "the pace of our negotiations will reflect this."

Negotiators aim to agree a deal by the end of 2015, but the mere prospect of dialogue signals what could be a major change in the future relationship between the EU and Cuba.

Since 1996, the EU has restricted its ties with Cuba to encourage multi-party democracy and progress on human rights.

The EU froze its diplomatic relations with Havana in 2003 after Cuban authorities threw 75 dissidents in jail. Limited contacts resumed five years later in 2008 following the release of the prisoners, but a number of former Communist EU states, including the Czech Republic and Poland, remained sceptical at any prospect of deepening political and economic ties.

But despite limited access, the bloc is Cuba's second-biggest trading partner after Venezuela, accounting for 20 percent of total Cuban trade, while more than half of EU member states already have bilateral trade agreements with Cuba.

Europeans also make up one third of the thousands of foreign tourists who visit the island each year.

Since 2008, Cuba has also received over €80 million in development aid and emergency support in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

For his part, Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans, who last month urged the EU to reconsider its relationship with Cuba during a ministerial visit there, expressed his satisfaction with the result.

"I am very happy that we now have a different position on Cuba," he told reporters. 

"That does not mean we have a different judgement on the situation in Cuba, but we have a different approach to engage Cuba in a dialogue, to try and bring about political change, to stimulate economic reform and political change." 

Agenda

Ukraine and Cuba on agenda this WEEK

Ukraine will top the EU foreign ministers' agenda on Monday, but relations with Cuba and military intervention in CAR will also feature.

Ashton to explore closer ties with Cuba

EU foreign ministers have asked the bloc's top diplomat Catherine Ashton to explore the possibility of closer ties with Cuba, but rejected calls to lift the EU's common position.

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EU-Cuba agreement: A path to human rights and democracy?

The ALDE group recently hosted a conference to discuss the EU-Cuba agreement and Cuba's path towards human rights and democracy. Civil society representatives from Cuba said the agreement failed to consult the people.

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