Cuba Successfully Engaging the World: Washington’s Missed Opportunities

File photo of world leaders waving to the media during the group picture during the summit of the CELAC-UE in Santiago

In “Washington’s Missed Opportunities: Cuba Successfully Engaging the World,” Lauren Foiles (Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs) discusses Cuba’s strengthening of old ties and exploration of news ones. Foiles writes:

Despite the recent increase in chatter surrounding the Atlantic poll on U.S. public opinion towards Cuba and former Florida Governor Charlie Crist shifting his stance on the half-century old economic embargo, the U.S. has missed out on yet another opportunity to foster meaningful ties with its Caribbean neighbor. On February 10, 2014 European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton chaired a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels. The meeting concluded with EU officials agreeing to talks with the Cuban government to increase trade, investment and dialogue on human rights and the EU negotiators aim to  pass  the so-called “Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement” by the end of 2015. [. . .] After the ministers in Brussels agreed to a new round of dialogue with Cuba, Ashton stated, “These negotiations will help consolidate our engagement with Cuba. I hope Cuba will take up this offer.” In fact, Cuba has responded more favorably than they have in the past, paving the way for new, lucrative investment opportunities and diplomatic/cultural exchanges that Washington continues to voluntarily exclude itself from.

The Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement: The accord has been in the works since January, 2013 when the head of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, traveled to Chile to attend the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States and European Union (CELAC-UE). Gianni Pittella, vice-president of the European Parliament, stated that “the decision to seek negotiations with Cuba had been a long process that gathered pace in Chile. Europe’s strategy is to encourage change.” Change is in fact already occurring on the island as President Raul Castro has launched an organic and important economic and social reform process. Some of Castro’s reforms include: decentralizing the agricultural sector by offering individuals and cooperatives leases to cultivate state-owned farmland; relaxing restrictions on small businesses and issuing new licenses for service-sector jobs; liberalizing real estate markets allowing Cubans to buy and sell private property; and eliminating once onerous bureaucratic requirements for Cubans to obtain government permission to travel outside the country. As a result of these reforms, it was reported in 2014 that the private sector had expanded to represent about 20 percent of Cuba’s workforce. Additionally, the government aims to slash 20 percent of the state labor force (nearly one million jobs) by 2016. According to EU officials, the proposed accord would give Brussels a bigger role in Havana’s market-oriented reforms, position European companies in an optimal situation to profit from Cuba’s ongoing transition to a more open economy and allow Europe to press for an expansion of political freedoms on the island. [. . .] Both the EU and Cuba are acting with pragmatism as each party recognizes the colossal economic benefits that increased trade and investment could bring about. [. . .]

France Taking Advantage of Untapped Markets: The most recent accord is not the only sign of the EU warming up to Cuba, as more than half of the 28 member states have bilateral relations with Havana despite the Common Position. On February 12, Truffle Capital, a French biotechnology investment company, announced the creation of ABIVAX in collaboration with the Cuban Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB). ABIVAX specializes in therapeutic vaccines and antivirals, combining the technologies and the product portfolios of three French biotech companies. An exclusive partnership agreement with the CIGB has been approved by the Cuban government and is predicted to further enrich the portfolio. In addition to the creation of a hepatitis B vaccine that could positively impact millions of people worldwide, this is the first ever start-up launched on the basis of a Euro-Cuban R&D collaboration. ABIVAX also signifies the first French company to sign an exclusive partnering agreement with Cuba in healthcare. Philippe Pouletty, president of the Administrative Council of the French firm stated that “Cuba is known for the excellence of its physicians and the quality of its vaccines. This is a project of international importance to put France foremost in this matter.”

Truffle stated in a press release that under the agreement, CIGB will manufacture the hepatitis B vaccine in Cuba, for sale in Europe, Asia and elsewhere, once it receives approval. The licensing agreement will undoubtedly generate massive profits for ABIVAX, but perhaps more importantly, the Paris-based company has stated that the goal of ABIVAX is to become a global leader in therapeutic vaccines and antivirals, with the expectation of many more cooperative efforts involving Cuba in the future.

France, like many other countries, recognizes the significant potential in Cuba’s healthcare system despite ideological differences that the two countries traditionally may have had. With healthcare being one of the top items on the Obama administration’s agenda, one would think that Washington would be more open to working with one of the most distinguished healthcare systems in the world today. Fortunately, for those affected by hepatitis B in the licensed regions of Europe and Asia, France and Cuba were able to set ideological differences aside to produce a medical advancement while forging a landmark partnership in healthcare.

Non-EU Countries Warming to Cuba As Well:  Several other countries outside of the EU have also made efforts to engage with Cuba recently. While all the engagements may not have the potential to expand Cuba’s export market to include 500 million European consumers, the interactions still demonstrate the propensity of countries like Canada, several African nations, and China to aggressively seek a warmer stance towards Cuba.

See full article (including the footnotes that were omitted here) at

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