“Clear vision, steady nerves, and tons of patience.” This was the formula Christian Leffler, Managing Director of the Americas for the European Union offered when recommending how to negotiate with the Cuban government. As chief negotiator in the EU-Cuba trade talks, Mr. Leffler was well qualified to offer an in-depth look at the talks and the takeaways for the United States as it moves forward in normalizing relations with Cuba.
The Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center hosted a call with Mr. Leffler the morning of February 11, 2015 on the status of the EU engagement with Cuba. He was joined by Arnaldo Abruzzini, the Secretary General of Eurochambres, the largest organization of European Chambers of Commerce in the world. Mr. Abruzzini highlighted the private-sector perspective on engagement, noting the importance of secure legal frameworks for European companies to operate in Cuba without enormous risk factors.
“Business is always ahead of politics,” Abruzzini noted. “We are there with competitors—Chinese and Russian companies are there—but with US companies coming in now, we Europeans will benefit from a historical capacity of working together.”
This endorsement of the new US policy was echoed by Leffler. He noted that the newly-engaged approach of the United States would better allow for EU-US cooperation on Cuba matters, emphasizing that the United States and Europe share many of the same core values. But Leffler clarified that while encouraging those values would be part of the negotiations, the implementation of change in Cuba could only be carried out by the Cubans themselves.
Though both Leffler and Abruzzini support further negotiations, both cautioned that the business opportunities in Cuba should not be overblown. Cuba makes up less than 0.1 percent of Europe’s external trade, and the lack of legal certainties within Cuba mean that is unlikely to change drastically anytime soon.
“The private sector opens opportunities not just for businesses, but for society at large,” said Abruzzini. “Business likes to see itself as not just a profit-maker but also as contributing to society as a whole.”