U.S. Chamber of Commerce chief urges Cuba to extend reforms

HAVANA Thu May 29, 2014 6:33pm EDT

HAVANA May 29 (Reuters) - The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Thursday urged Cuba to speed up and extend market-style economic reforms, calling the changes a potential path toward better relations with the United States.

Chamber President Thomas Donohue concluded his three-day visit to the communist-ruled island with a speech at Havana University attended by Foreign Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca, a host of other Cuban officials and students.

"The more Cuba can do to demonstrate its commitment to reform, and the more it can do to address and resolve disputes in our relations, the better the prospects will be for changes in U.S. policy," said Donohue, who reiterated the chamber's longtime opposition to the decades-old U.S. trade embargo of Cuba.

He praised reforms that have tripled the number of small private business to 450,000 while allowing more than 2,000 farm cooperatives and 400,000 private farmers to grow food on their own land.

But he also said that Cuba had more to do and cited China and Vietnam as examples where communist countries have raised living standards by turning toward more market-oriented policies.

"We hope these changes continue and urge that they be expanded. Businesses throughout the global economy will respond," said Donohue, a champion of capitalism and free enterprise and an influential voice in U.S. politics. (Reporting by Daniel Trotta, editing by G Crosse)