April 29,2016 – (BBC) Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said he is keen to “forge new links across the Atlantic”, on arrival in Cuba for a visit.
Mr Hammond is the first UK foreign secretary to travel to the Caribbean country in an official capacity since its communist revolution in 1959.
He said there would be new “co-operation agreements” on energy, finance, education and culture.
Mr Hammond’s two-day visit follows one by US President Barack Obama in March.
As with all visiting dignitaries, Mr Hammond’s first stop was in Revolution Square, Havana, to lay a wreath for the island’s independence hero, Jose Marti.
He then held talks with his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla.
The foreign secretary is taking part in a series of meetings to discuss social and economic changes, human rights and the fight against global health threats such as the Zika virus.
He will also sign a bilateral agreement restructuring Cuba’s debt to the UK.
“Britain and Cuba have outlooks on the world and systems of government that are very different,” Mr Hammond said as he arrived in the capital, Havana.
“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.”
BBC Mexico and Central America correspondent Will Grant says increased trade is the main focus of the visit, with UK businesses looking to build links with Cuba’s tourism, agriculture and financial services industries.
Cuba’s largest trading partners are Venezuela and China. European Commission data shows Spain is the largest exporter to Cuba from the EU, with trade totalling nearly £750m last year.
UK exports were £25m in 2015, £19m in 2014 and £22m in 2013.
According to UK Trade & Investment, the top British products exported to Cuba came from the dairy, pharmaceutical, paper, drinks, optical, aluminium, and machinery sectors.
It says the UK remains under-represented in the market compared with other EU nations, although “significant trade” of products goes through third countries.
Last month Mr Obama became the first US president since 1928 to visit Cuba.
For years, the US and Cuba were engaged in a bitter stand-off, triggered by the overthrow of US-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista by Communist leader Fidel Castro in 1959.
The US broke off diplomatic relations and imposed a trade embargo.