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U.S. commerce secretary calls for Cuba to speed up economic reforms

Penny Pritzker meets with Cuban leaders Wednesday

HAVANA – U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker urged the Cuba government on Wednesday to speed up reforms needed to broaden foreign investment on the Caribbean island and support the growing private sector.

Pritzker is on a two-day visit to the island, exploring prospects for U.S. business investment in Cuba, and exchanging views with high Cuban officials about the ongoing normalization process begun by the Obama administration last December.

The high-profile visit came as a multitude of U.S. business and trade groups have visited Cuba over the last year, eager to invest and trade with the country, but wary of the bureaucratic and regulatory difficulties presented by the highly centralized economy.

Pritzker urged her Cuban counterparts to relax restrictions on private enterprise and Internet access and create a regulatory climate in which foreign business, including U.S. companies, can operate with clear rules and regulations.

"We urge President (Raul) Castro and his government to make it easier for Cuban citizens to trade and travel more freely, to enjoy the fruits of their labor, to access the Internet and to hire directly by foreign companies," Pritzker said.

Pritzker met early Wednesday with Cuban Minister Rodrigo Malmierca, who heads the country's department of Foreign Trade and Commerce, and other top government officials to discuss how U.S. businesses can confidently invest in Cuba.

"And the extent of their impact will depend on the Cuban government also taking steps to update its regulatory system and reform the economy in ways that support continued development of the Cuban private sector and increase the prosperity of the Cuban people," Pritzker said.

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