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Posted May 19, 2003 by publisher in Cuba-World Trade

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By Stephen Gibbs | BBC News

A major British trade mission has been in Cuba this week.

It is the first such visit since Cuba drew international condemnation for imprisoning 75 political dissidents, and executing three hijackers.

And it comes just days before President Bush is expected to announce a tightening of the four-decade old trade embargo against Cuba.

A group of 16 British companies - from Rolls Royce to Virgin Atlantic - have spent a week in Havana, all hoping to trade with the Cuban government.

One delegate described the timing of this visit as “unfortunate”.

Cuba’s recent clampdown on dissidents, and execution of three hijackers has led many European governments - including Britain - to step back from open co-operation.

But the leader of the British team, former UK sports minister Lord Moynihan, said the events of the last two months should encourage more, not less engagement.

“I found that the businessmen share my view that operating through trade and constructive dialogue is an important way of assisting the average Cuban.

“And that political judgement matched to the market opportunities that exist in this country is at the top of their agenda.

“It is by no means an easy market, it is politically very tense at the present time, and the challenges are there. ”

Bush reaction

But those that believe that more trade with Cuba is a good thing are likely to receive a further blow this week.

On Tuesday, President Bush is expected to give his reaction to recent events on the communist-led island.

Options he is reportedly considering include preventing Cuban Americans from sending money to their relatives in Cuba, or ending all charter flights between the US and Cuba.

Both are designed to tighten the noose on the Cuban economy.

European companies that are aiming to do business here, may find it is about to get even tougher.

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