Britain’s foreign secretary met with Cuban officials Thursday to discuss trade and tourism ties with the communist country, marking the first visit of its kind since 1959.
Upon landing in Cuba late Thursday, Philip Hammond said Britain is ready to strengthen its ties with the small island nation, and signed several cooperation agreements on energy, education and financial services.
"Britain and Cuba have outlooks on the world and systems of government that are very different," Hammond said. "But as Cuba enters a period of significant social and economic change, I am looking forward to demonstrating to the Cuban government and people that the U.K. is keen to forge new links across the Atlantic.”
Hammond said he wanted "enhanced bilateral cooperation underpinned by increased trade, increased investment and more tourists coming to Cuba" from Britain.
Last year, according to the British Department of Trade and Industry, exports to Cuba rose by 25 percent. Also last year, according to Hammond, Britain was the second largest country of origin for tourists to Cuba, trailing only Canada, with 160,000 Britons making the trip.
Hammond is scheduled to participate in several “high-level meetings” while in Cuba to discuss social and economic changes, human rights and the fight against global health threats such as the Zika virus.
Hammond’s visit to Cuba follows a March visit by U.S. President Barack Obama – the first president to visit Cuba since 1928.