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Business urges Obama to loosen Cuba embargo
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President-elect Barack Obama should start soon to loosen five decades of trade curbs on Cuba and begin a comprehensive review of U.S. policy toward the communist-run island, U.S. business groups said on Thursday.
"We support the complete removal of all trade and travel restrictions on Cuba. We recognize that change may not come all at once, but it must start somewhere, and it must begin soon," the groups said in a letter to Obama.
They recommended the United States start by holding talks with Cuba to discuss how to repair nearly 50 years of distrust and by allowing Americans to visit the island.
Washington should also consider exempting agricultural machinery, heavy equipment and certain other goods from its embargo to help in the rebuilding of Cuba in the wake of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, the groups said.
The groups included American Farm Bureau Federation, Business Roundtable, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Retail Federation and Grocery Manufacturers Association, whose collective membership comprises a broad cross-section of American industry and agriculture.
"We are pleased that you support suspending restrictions on family remittances, visits and humanitarian care packages from Cuban Americans. These are excellent first steps, but we urge you to also commit to a more comprehensive examination of U.S. policy," the groups said.
The United States expanded an arms embargo on Cuba in 1962 to include other goods after the Cuban government under the leadership of Fidel Castro seized the properties of American companies doing business on the island.
The Cold War-era restrictions were codified into law by Congress 1992 under the Cuban Democracy Act.
Efforts to loosen the embargo remain politically difficult because of the influence of Cuban-American exiles living in Florida, a key presidential swing state.
But with Obama's election, the outlook for change has improved, said Jake Colvin, vice president for global trade issues at the National Foreign Trade Council, whose members include Boeing, Caterpillar and Microsoft.
"There is a growing optimism that taking the kinds of small steps that President-elect Obama has promised, like diplomatic overtures and relaxing travel restrictions, could lead to more substantial changes later on. Companies want to be ready for that moment," Colvin said.
Obama could take some steps on his own, but completely removing the embargo would require congressional action.
(Editing by Jackie Frank)
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