Cuba, EU renew talks on relations; will discuss human rights

Christian Leffler (R), chief European negotiator for the EU-Cuba talks and Cuba's Deputy Foreign Minister Abelardo Moreno (L) attend a meeting at Cuba's foreign ministry in Havana March 4, 2015. REUTERS/Alejandro Ernesto/Pool (Reuters)

By Daniel Trotta HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba and the European Union renewed talks on improving relations on Wednesday, advancing on several issues but leaving the major topics of trade and human rights until Thursday, Cuba said. This was the third round of talks, but the first since Cuba opened a similar dialogue with the United States following the landmark announcement on Dec. 17 that the two longtime adversaries would restore diplomatic relations. In almost three hours on Wednesday, Cuba and the Europeans made progress on labor, culture, education, health and agriculture, said Abelardo Moreno, Cuba's deputy foreign minister and chief negotiator in the EU talks, which were due to resume on Thursday. "There will be a preliminary exchange in the area of trade and the European Union tomorrow morning will present its points of view on the matter of political dialogue," Moreno told reporters without taking questions. Moreno did not mention human rights by name but that comes under the subject of political dialogue, and European diplomats have said the topic would be discussed during this round in Havana. Human rights, the biggest obstacle for an accord, is always a sensitive subject in Cuba, a one-party state that monopolizes the media and restricts free speech and assembly in the name of protecting its 1959 revolution. The EU is already Cuba's top foreign investor, and EU officials say the proposed accord with Cuba would give Brussels a bigger role in Havana's market-oriented reforms. That could position European companies for any transition to a more open economy and allow the 28-member bloc to press for political freedoms on the Communist-ruled island. The EU and Cuba began the negotiations in April last year to improve relations, part of a significant deepening of ties since the bloc lifted diplomatic sanctions in 2008. EU and Cuban officials say Cuba's recent rapprochement with the United States has not had any direct impact on the talks. (Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Alan Crosby)