HAVANA – The European Union and Cuba held a third round of "frank" talks on Wednesday aimed at normalising relations, as Havana and Washington work through their own historic rapprochement.
The two-day session in Havana, part of a dialogue that began 11 months ago, is aimed at tackling human rights issues and finalising an agreement "on political dialogue and co-operation," meant to turn the page on a decade of estrangement.
The talks are being led by European chief negotiator Christian Leffler and Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Abelardo Moreno. The pair headed the two previous rounds, in Brussels in August and in Havana in April.
"The discussions were frank and constructive," Moreno said, however no agreements were announced.
A European diplomat said: "Our agenda is focused on co-operation, with the ambition to start dealing with the two other major topics (political dialogue and commerce) and set a stage for the next steps."
A Thursday evening press conference scheduled by the visiting EU delegation will take stock of the progress made during the closed-door discussions.
The talks mark the first meeting between the European bloc and Havana since the United States and Cuba surprised the world by announcing in December that they would move to restore relations after half a century.
The EU launched its normalisation process with the nation to encourage President Raul Castro to pursue reforms allowing for private initiatives without changing the one-party political system.
This week's sessions, initially scheduled for January, had been postponed by Cuba just before the thaw with Washington was announced.
The EU hailed the move, calling it a historic turning point. However, Spain in January urged the EU to speed up its process of normalisation to not lose ground to Washington, particularly on trade.
Meanwhile, France announced on Tuesday that President Francois Hollande will travel to Cuba in May, the first visit by a French chief of state.
An accord with Havana would facilitate European aid to the Cuban economy, and possibly ease the island's exports to EU nations.
Cuban tobacco, one of the country's main exports, is subject to a 26 per cent tariff in the EU, slowing sales.
Bilateral trade has increased, however, and the EU is Cuba's second biggest trading partner after Venezuela, with exchanges valued at US$3.7 billion in 2012, according to the latest Cuban government figures.
While Cuba exports mostly raw materials, it imports mainly manufactured goods from the European Union. — AFP