HAVANA — Britain’s foreign secretary met Cuban officials yesterday on the first such visit to the country since 1959, for talks on boosting trade and tourism ties with the state.
Philip Hammond’s trip comes a month after US President Barack Obama’s historic visit to the Caribbean nation, which is opening up to warmer ties with its old Cold War rivals.
Hammond told reporters in Havana that he was "the first UK foreign secretary to visit Cuba since the revolution" that brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959.
His visit also follows meetings in recent months between Cuba’s President Raul Castro and other top officials and leaders from the European Union.
Hammond met with his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez and signed several co-operation agreements with other communist government officials.
They covered areas such as financial services, energy, culture and education, he said.
Hammond said he wanted "enhanced bilateral cooperation underpinned by increased trade, increased investment and more tourists coming to Cuba" from Britain.
Britain was the second-biggest source of foreign tourists to Cuba last year after Canada, with 160,000 Britons making the trip, he said.
He also met with representatives from Cuban civil society and the British business community in Havana, the Foreign Office said.
British exports to Cuba
British direct exports to Cuba -- mostly dairy, pharmaceuticals and machinery -- increased by nearly a third last year to the equivalent of about US$36 million, Hammond said.
Indirect trade via companies based in third countries made the total even bigger, the British embassy in Havana added.
The growth in trade coincided with the historic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States after 50 years of enmity stemming back to the Cold War.
Although the two countries restored diplomatic ties last year, the US trade embargo on Cuba dating to the 1960s remains in place. – AFP