April 9, 2015 / 1:03 AM / 5 years ago

U.S. business leader optimistic on lifting Cuban embargo

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - One of the most influential pro-business lobbyists in Washington said on Wednesday he is optimistic the U.S. Congress might lift the trade embargo against Cuba before the next presidential election in 2016.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Thomas Donohue addresses the audience during a conference at the University of Havana May 29, 2014. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue, a longtime opponent of the embargo, said Republican opposition to removing Cuba sanctions could be overcome before the next presidential campaign.

U.S. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, has eased parts of the embargo as part of his recent opening to Cuba and has asked Congress to work toward overturning it, but he faces opposition from the Republican leadership in both houses.

“I’m not worried about Republicans,” Donohue told Chamber members and reporters in Panama, where he is attending a business event ahead of a Summit of the Americas that brings together regional leaders, including Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro.

“We’re going to get it done before that,” he said, referring to the presidential election.

When asked if he was saying Congress would lift the embargo before the next president takes office in January 2017, he said, “I don’t make those kind of predictions, but there’s a lot of time ... I have some hope that this thing can move in a pretty orderly manner.”

The Chamber has long opposed the U.S. embargo against Cuba as government interference in the private sector.

Under the embargo, U.S. companies have been banned from doing business with the communist-led island, which trades with the rest of the world.

It was imposed in 1962 amid Cold War tensions and was supported by nine U.S. presidents until Obama reset Cuba policy with the announcement in December that the two longtime adversaries would restore full diplomatic ties and seek to normalize overall relations.

Critics of Obama’s policy shift say the embargo should remain in force because of Cuba’s human rights record.

Donohue visited Havana in May and is constantly in contact with power brokers in Washington.

He warned U.S. businesses that lifting the embargo would not assure them a place on the island, as any hopefuls would still need to reach a deal with the Cuban government.

“Nobody’s going to hand America the business. You’ve got to compete for the business that’s the opportunity we haven’t had down there,” Donohue said.

(Corrects spelling of Donohue throughout)

Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Kieran Murray

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