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Allies warn of Trump's Cuba hawks

By Chen Weihua in Brussels | China Daily | Updated: 2019-04-19 09:20

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington on April 17, 2019. [Photo/IC]

Washington tries to squeeze Havana's role in Venezuela with fresh sanctions

Tensions between the United States and its close allies have intensified as the European Union and Canada issued a joint warning on Wednesday against the US after Washington said it would allow US lawsuits against foreign investments in Cuba.

The US announced on Wednesday that it would shift its practice under the 1996 Helms-Burton Act and allow lawsuits against foreign firms that use properties nationalized by the Cuban government after the 1959 revolution.

The US measure, which was passed by the US Congress in 1996 but has been delayed by every president by six months systematically ever since, will now take effect on May 2 after the US State Department last month extended the exemption by only 30 days.

"Any person or company doing business in Cuba should heed this announcement," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the press on Wednesday. He described the reversal of the policy as a punishment for Cuba's support for current Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

US key allies, which failed to persuade Washington to extend the exemption, were quick to respond.

"The EU and Canada consider the extraterritorial application of unilateral Cuba-related measures contrary to international law," EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Federica Mogherini and European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom said in a statement that was also signed by Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.

"Our respective laws allow any US claims to be followed by counterclaims in European and Canadian courts, so the US decision to allow suits against foreign companies can only lead to an unnecessary spiral of legal actions."

Freeland said Canada is "deeply disappointed" and reviewing options with the EU, according to the Canadian Financial Post.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Wednesday that he strongly rejects US activation of the measure. "It is an attack against International Law and the sovereignty of #Cuba & third States. Aggressive escalation of#US against #Cuba will fail," he said in a tweet.

Mogherini and Malmstrom, in a letter ahead of the announcement, warned Pompeo that enforcement of the outdated law would lead to reprisals in Europe.

The European Union "will be obliged to use all means at its disposal, including in cooperation with other international partners, to protect its interests," said the official letter by Mogherini and Malmstrom, according to Agence France-Presse.

The 1996 Helms-Burton Act gave Americans the right to sue the mostly European firms that operate out of hotels, tobacco factories, distilleries and other properties that Cuba nationalized after 1959.

Countries with major investments in Cuba have threatened to sue in the World Trade Organization if US tries to disrupt the business ties between Cuba and another sovereign nation.

"The extraterritorial application of the US embargo is illegal and violates international law," said EU Ambassador to Cuba Alberto Navarro. "I personally consider it immoral. For 60 years the only thing that's resulted from the embargo is the suffering of the Cuban people."

While the Helms-Burton Act was passed during the years of President Bill Clinton, every US president since Clinton has suspended the key clause, known as Title III, to avoid those trade clashes and a potential mass of lawsuits that would prevent any future settlement with Cuba over nationalized properties.

Tensions between Brussels and Washington have grown under Trump. On Wednesday, the EU announced that it is preparing to retaliate against the US over unlawful subsidies by the US government to Boeing. The retaliation list of up to $22.5 billion products cover everything from tractors, suitcases and frozen fish to fruits, wine, liquors and ketchup.

The announcement came after the WTO appellate body ruled last month that Boeing, in at least one case, continued to benefit from a tax break given by the US government. The ruling opened the door for EU retaliation against the US.

Earlier this month the US threatened EU with tariffs on $11 billion of European goods after the appellate body found Airbus hadn't complied with a previous subsidy ruling.

The US government has threatened tariffs on European cars and car parts after it imposed tariffs on European steel products last year, both in the name of "national security threat".

France 24 contributed to the story.



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