Abu Dhabi:  American sanctions against Cuba are causing economic losses to the tune of $70 billion (Dh257 billion) a year and the island country in the Caribbean is hopeful Washington will lift the embargo before long, a senior Cuban official said.

"Last year, 187 countries, including the UAE, supported Cuba's resolution to end the blockade. Later this month on October 26 the UN General Assembly is again going to discuss the issue," Marcos Rodriguez Costa, Cuba's Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, who was on a visit to Abu Dhabi, told reporters on Wednesday.

The US imposed sanctions against Cuba in 1962 shortly after Fidel Castro seized power in a revolution on the island. The embargo was a response to Castro's nationalisation of American-owned enterprises; it sought to deprive Cuba of foreign exchange and hasten the end of communism.

Before 1962, more than two-thirds of Cuba's foreign trade had been with the United States, so when the was imposed Cuba had to find alternative markets, and it became highly dependent on the Soviet Union.

The embargo has since been strengthened, most recently by a 1996 bill — the Helms-Burton bill — which punishes foreign companies dealing with Cuba.

On September 2, US President Barack Obama renewed the embargo for yet another year, until September 14, 2011, with no explanation other than that the embargo "is in the national interest of the United States".

Investment laws

Costa said Cuba is ready to sit down and talk with the US on an equal footing to resolve their outstanding differences. Separately, he said the new investment laws in Cuba now allow 51 per cent to 100 per cent foreign direct investment in some specific business sectors and urged the UAE to explore joint opportunities.

He said opportunities for foreign investment in Cuba include sectors such as nickel mining, oil exploration, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals as well as in their tourism industry, which attracts close to 2.5 million visitors a year.

"Cuba is opening up to the world. We have 112 embassies worldwide and we may soon have our embassy in the UAE and the UAE may open its embassy in Havana. We are working towards that objective," Costa said.

He said he had invited the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce to bring a delegation to Havana to discuss the scope of bilateral business opportunities.

Costa said the size of Cuba-UAE trade is currently only about $2.5 million with Cuba exporting primarily its world-famous Havana cigars.