Foreign Secretary's two-day visit to Cuba marks a first for a UK official in 56 years

Posted: 01-May-16 12:14

UK Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond landed in Havana's Jose Marti International Airport last Friday for a two-day visit to Cuba during which he revealed his eagerness to "forge new links across the Atlantic" by laying the foundations for new cooperation agreements between both countries in the areas of finance, energy, culture and education. This latest visit of a high-ranking foreign dignitary follows Obama's recent trip to the island with his family, where they toured the capital on an atypically rainy day.

Foreign Secretary's two-day visit to Cuba marks a first for a UK official in 56 years

The sun was shining brightly in Havana last Friday to welcome the first UK official to travel to Cuba in over half a century. UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond arrived to the Cuban capital for a two-day visit with keen eagerness to "forge new links" and create the right conditions for future bilateral agreements on issues like energy, education, finance and culture.

Following the official tour given to all foreign dignitaries visiting the island for the first time, Mr Hammond's first stop in the island was Havana's Revolution Square, where he paid his respects to local independence hero Jose Marti by laying a wreath in front of his statue.

His next step was a private meeting with his Cuban counterpart, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla with whom he held a series of talks discussing topics such as economic and social changes, human rights and the fight against global health threats such as the Zika virus.

Despite declaring that Cuba and the UK have different outlooks on many topics, Mr Hammond signed bilateral agreements to restructure Cuba's debt to the UK while giving a hint that with the island's new opening economy and the thawing of relations between Cuba and the U.S. (which have also led to the relaxation of the formerly strict US-imposed trade embargo) Britain was eager to financially engage with the island by increasing trade.

As he arrived in the capital Mr Hammond said:

"Britain and Cuba have outlooks on the world and systems of government that are very different, but as Cuba enters a period of significant social and economic change, I am looking forward to demonstrating to the Cuban government and people that the UK is keen to forge new links across the Atlantic."

The trip of the UK dignitary to Cuba sparked speculation among worldwide media that the UK was looking to find its place in the Cuban economy and take a slice of the new opportunities that Obama's administration brought forward with the relaxation of embargo laws. BBC Mexico and Central America correspondent Will Grant highlighted the fact that increased trade was the main focus of the visit, with UK companies and organisations seeking business opportunities with Cuba's travel, financial services and agriculture industries.

At present China and Venezuela are Cuba's main trading partners while Spain is the largest exporter to Cuba from the EU according to data from the European Commission, which also shows that trade from Spain to Cuba totalled close to £750 million last year. In comparison, UK exports to Cuba amounted to only £25 million in 2015 with the top British products being exported coming from the pharmaceutical, optical, dairy, paper, drinks, aluminium and machinery industries.


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