EU hails 'substantial progress' towards Cuba trade deal
By Benjamin Fox
EU and Cuban officials have made “substantial progress” towards agreeing a trade and political co-operation treaty, the bloc’s top diplomat to Havana said following the second round of talks in Brussels.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday (28 August) following two days of talks, Christian Leffler, who heads the EU’s external action service in the Americas, added that negotiators would discuss "more sensitive political questions," when they reconvene for the next round to be held in Havana later this year.
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Diplomats opened talks on a ‘Political dialogue and co-operation” agreement in April. EU-Cuban cooperation, political and institutional matters in Cuba, and trade relations are the three key elements of the talks.
“The Cuban side is clear and in agreement that the accord must facilitate cooperation among all the actors of Cuba and the EU, including civil society," noted Leffler.
He added that the EU team had made their first presentation on what the main areas of trade co-operation and investment facilitation should be.
The EU froze its diplomatic relations with Havana in 2003 after Cuban authorities threw 75 dissidents in jail but provided aid and emergency support worth over €80 million in response to the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Unlike the United States, the EU has not imposed restrictions on its trade with Cuba, but it is the only Latin American country with which Brussels does not have a bilateral accord.
Despite limited access between their markets, the EU is Cuba's second-biggest trading partner after Venezuela, accounting for 20 percent of total Cuban trade. Meanwhile, more than half of the EU’s member states already have bilateral trade agreements with Havana.
In return for better trade links, the EU is demanding that Raul Castro’s regime improves its human rights record.
For their part, the Cuban government stated in a communiqué that the talks had "developed in a constructive manner."
The two sides are hoping to clinch a deal by the end of 2015.