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Obama set to visit Cuba- first in 90 years by a US President

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President Obama is all set to visit Cuba next month on March 21.

VOA reports: “Barack Obama is set to become the first sitting American president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years. He and first lady Michelle Obama will travel to the island nation March 21 to build on what the White House says is progress in the normalisation of U.S.-Cuba ties.”

The USA had lifted the embargo on this communist nation a few months back, paving the way to the possibility of bilateral talks and commerce and diplomatic engagements.

However, there is a mixed response to Obama’s visit. Cuba is still a thoroughly communist country, once iron ruled by Fidel Castro, now by his brother Raul Castro. Its economy is a closed one, and the people do not enjoy the freedom of speech and democracy. Poverty, unemployment rule the roost.

IANS reports: But critics in the Republican Party and among the Cuban-American community have decried the move, saying the Obama administration would give Cuba what they called undeserved recognition and would get nothing in return.

In an online post after the trip’s announcement, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes wrote: “There is much more that can be done — by the US and by the Cuban government — to advance this opening in ways that will be good for Cubans, and good for the United States. That is why President Obama is travelling to Cuba.”

But many Republicans continue to view Cuba in an unfavourable light. Two of the biggest critics of Obama’s move are Republican presidential hopefuls Senator Ted Cruz and Senator Marco Rubio.

Experts said both of them have a shot at clinching the Republican nomination for the 2016 race to the White House.

Both senators, sons of Cuban immigrants, hold opinions that reflect a long-standing argument among the Cuban-American community — namely, Washington should not open up to full relations with Havana till certain stipulations are met on issues such as human rights.

In a Wednesday speech on his campaign trail, Rubio said Cuba is “anti-American”, reflecting the opinions of a large chunk of the Cuban-American community. Cruz has also slammed Obama’s Cuba policy as a kind of “weakness and appeasement”.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, a Republican, also criticised Obama’s visit, alleging on Thursday that “Cuban workers continue to be exploited”.

The US-based experts are split over whether re-establishing US-Cuban ties is a positive move.

Ana Rosa Quintana, Heritage Foundation’s Latin America analyst, said Cuba has made no concessions whatsoever to the US, reflecting a common argument that the island nation has given the US nothing in exchange for re-established ties with Washington.

She added that re-establishment of relations between the two countries without pre-conditions sends out wrong messages.

Although official ties have once again been established, it remains doubtful that the US trade embargo will be fully lifted anytime soon.

The embargo has been in effect since 1962 amid the Cold War, as the US worried that Cuba would be allied with the Soviet Union in its back yard.

In 1996, the embargo was codified into US law and put under Congressional control, with only the Congress having the full power to reverse it.

Though Obama has chipped away at some stipulations within the embargo, most of the sanctions still exist. It is unlikely that the Republican-led Congress will overturn the embargo.

The US Congress has been unwilling to work with Obama on lifting the embargo, according to Quintana.

“(Obama) is weakening the embargo. He says you know what, I disagree with it, I’m going to see what I can do to undermine it,” she said.

Brookings Institution’s senior fellow Darrell West said Obama wants to push along the relationship with Cuba so the next president can’t roll back his rapprochement.

“His goal is to open up trade and investment and put the policy back on a more normalised basis. Opening up trade will boost the Cuban economy and generate more trade and commerce between the two nations,” West said.

“There is likely to be a flood of American tourists to Cuba so that will encourage the construction of new hotels and restaurants. Cuba likely will be a popular destination for many American businesses,” he added.

Video report by Voice of America’s Aru Pande and Katherine Gypson brought to you by NewsGram in collaboration with VOA.

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India Urges China to Open Markets For Trade

“When people make a price comparison and want to move towards the cheapest goods, those are usually Chinese products.”

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Sampad Yadav, the owner of a shop carrying electrical goods in a market in Gurugram near New Delhi, says people are drawn to Chinese products such as LED lights because they are more competitively priced. VOA

Sampad Yadav, who sells electrical goods in a shop in the business hub of Gurugram on the outskirts of New Delhi, says Chinese goods such as LED lamps are popular with customers. “When people make a price comparison and want to move towards the cheapest goods, those are usually Chinese products.”

As in many other countries, Chinese products such as lamps, electronics, smartphones and engineering goods from the manufacturing giant have flooded Indian markets.

However, India has long fretted that areas in which it is strong such as generic drugs and Information Technology services, which make up some of its main exports to Western markets, remain shut out of China. That has made it difficult to bridge a ballooning trade deficit of about $50 billion between the two countries.

ALSO READ: China emerges as one of the fastest-growing sources of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into India

But there is optimism this could change following a meeting this week between the commerce ministers of the two countries in New Delhi.

“The Chinese side have agreed to work on the issue, prepare a roadmap to bring the trade to balanced level over a period of time,” Indian Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu said after discussions with his Chinese counterpart, Zhong Shan.

Trade experts hope the growing tensions on trade issues between the United States and China will prompt Beijing to open up its markets more to Indian exports. “I think China is definitely under pressure now, looking into the kind of initiation which has happened against China,” says Ajay Sahai, who heads the Federation of Indian Exports Organization.

The meeting between the Indian and Chinese commerce ministers this week came amid efforts to de-escalate tensions between the Asian neighbors following a period of rocky ties and a tense 70-day face-off between their troops in the Himalayas last year.

india-china trade
Products such as lights and lamps sold in Indian shops are predominantly Chinese.Products such as lights and lamps sold in Indian shops are predominantly Chinese. VOA

Despite a long-lingering boundary dispute and an often-fraught diplomatic relationship, trade ties between the Asian giants have gained significant momentum and China is now India’s largest trading partner. Bilateral trade in 2017 topped $80 billion rising by more than 20 percent over the previous year.

But worryingly for New Delhi, the trade deficit remains high despite a marginal growth in Indian exports – they add up to about $16 billion versus Chinese imports into India of about $68 billion.

ALSO READ: India China’s Fight Over the Doklam Plateau Explained

Market access a key issue

India exports mainly raw materials like iron ore, copper and cotton yarn to China. “In whatever value-added exports where we are competitive, unfortunately, the market is not open for us,” says Sahai.

However, China has promised to give greater market access to Indian goods, particularly pharmaceuticals and agricultural goods such as rice, as well as service exports, according to the Indian commerce minister. “They have decided to work in a way that will address security issues from their side as well as introduce Indian companies to those who can buy these products in China,” says Prabhu.

New Delhi, which is trying to ramp up domestic manufacturing, is also urging China to manufacture more goods exported to India within the country.

india-china trade
Generic drugs produced by Indian pharmaceutical companies make medicines affordable, but India says that China does not provide market access to its generic drugs. VOA

ALSO READ: China is likely to get involved if India disrupts $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in restive Balochistan

Whether the promised actions translate into concrete outcomes remains to be seen. But exporters are hopeful. Sahai points out that China has invited Indian traders to what is being billed as the country’s first importers fair to be held in Shanghai later this year – it is being showcased as a measure to further open up China’s market.

The positive tenor of talks between the two countries comes days after U.S. President Donald Trump announced plans to impose tariffs on Chinese imports valued at $60 billion.

New Delhi could also face U.S. ire on trade issues – although its exports to the United States are comparatively small, it has a high trade deficit in its favor and Washington has often complained of protectionist barriers in India. In February, Trump called out India for imposing higher duties on Harley-Davidson motorcycles than the U.S. does on Indian motorbikes.

Amid growing fears that global trade faces uncertain times, analysts have called on countries like India to focus on increasing trade within the region.

India and China also said they will strengthen cooperation in the World Trade Organization and other multilateral and regional frameworks to maintain their common interests. VOA