The European Union has decided to launch negotiations with Cuba with a view to fostering more cooperation and trade between the two sides. The step marked the biggest offensive since Brussels lifted sanctions in 2008.
The European Union on Monday agreed to start negotiations with Cuba to increase trade and investment while not neglecting dialogue on human rights issues.
EU foreign ministers in Brussels endorsed a relevant negotiating mandate for a cooperation accord that would ultimately open the way to broader business ties and support the Caribbean nation's market-oriented reforms.
"I hope Cuba will take up this offer, and that we can work towards a stronger relationship, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement.
Experts noted the new deal might take two to three years to materialize, but would nonetheless mark the bloc's most important policy shift since the EU resumed diplomatic ties with the Communist country five years ago.
EU foreign ministers denied any suggestion Brussels was trying to buy democratic reforms in Cuba, saying EU aid to Havana would remain at current levels.
Since 2008, the 28-member bloc has channeled some 80 million euros ($110 million) in development aid to Cuba. While the US has maintained its embargo, the EU is the Caribbean nation's second biggest trading partner after Venezuela and a leading source of foreign investment.
hg/dr (Reuters, AFP)