03/30/2016 15:33 EDT | Updated 03/31/2017 01:12 EDT

U.S. rapprochement with Cuba creating investment window for Canada: ambassador

MONTREAL — Cuba's ambassador says rapprochement with the U.S. is creating a window of opportunity for Canadian businesses to invest in the island country.

Ambassador Julio Garmendia Pena says that despite decades of friendly relations between Canada and Cuba, the lengthy U.S. "blockade" has made many Canadian companies reluctant to invest so as not to risk their American ties.

But he said the recent state visit by U.S. President Barack Obama has fostered unprecedented interest from potential foreign investors.

Cuba has changed some laws to encourage investment, but he said in speech Wednesday that any great change will depend on the U.S. Congress removing the embargo.

Pena says Canada has underinvested in Cuba's tourism sector even though more than 1.3 million Canadians vacation on Caribbean's largest island each year.

Currently, Canada is Cuba's fourth-largest trading partner. Among its biggest investors is Sherritt International (TSX:S), which has extensive oil and power operations there.

The communist government is looking to secure billions of dollars in foreign investment in the coming years and hopes to tap into Canada's expertise in clean energy, agriculture, mining and biotech.

Pena declined to weigh in on the impact of the U.S. presidential election, saying Cuba hopes to work with whomever is elected this fall.

Meanwhile, Cuba hopes to build upon its strong relationship Canada by enhancing ties with the new Liberal government and rekindling the historic bond that existed between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's father and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.


The Canadian Press