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Cuba signs first exports to US in half a century

The export is a key step in the gradual normalizing of ties that US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, seen together in March 2016, launched in late 2014/AFP-File

HAVANA, Cuba, Jan 6 – Two firms signed a deal Thursday for the first commercial exports in half a century from Cuba to the United States, a new step in the countries’ historic rapprochement.

Cuban company CubaExport signed an agreement to sell charcoal to US firm Coabana Trading for $420 a tonne, the communist island’s state newspaper Granma said.

Although a nearly 55-year US trade embargo on Cuba remains in place, the exports are authorized under exceptional measures approved by outgoing US President Barack Obama.

It is a key step in the gradual normalizing of ties that he and Cuban President Raul Castro launched in late 2014.

A first shipment of 40 tonnes of “marabu” vegetable charcoal for burning, made from a local hardwood tree originating in Africa, is due for delivery on January 18, Granma said online.

The Republican-controlled US Congress is reluctant to lift the full embargo on the communist island, whose government is branded a dictatorship by critics.

But Obama, who hands over office to Donald Trump on January 20, managed to ease the trade restrictions to allow certain products from private cooperative Cuban farms to be exported.

“This is a wide-reaching agreement for relations between the two countries,” the president of Coabana Trading, Scott Gilbert, told reporters after signing the deal in Havana.

“It represents another plank in the bridge between the United States and Cuba.”

CubaExport exports between 40,000 and 80,000 tonnes of vegetable charcoal a year, mostly to Europe, Granma said.

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