- Associated Press - Monday, April 20, 2015

HAVANA (AP) - Cuban officials and New York business executives are exploring ways for companies to do business on the communist-run island despite the longstanding U.S. embargo that makes most trade and investment illegal, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.

Cuomo was on the first day of a visit that made him the first U.S. governor to visit Cuba since the recent thaw in relations with the communist nation. He met with Cuba’s top officials for U.S. relations along with executives from Jetblue, Chobani Greek Yogurt, Pfizer and other New York-based companies.

Before a series of meetings between the executives and Cuban officials, Cuomo praised the decision by presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro to re-establish diplomatic relations after a half-century, and move toward a broader normalization expected to include deeper trade ties.

“Like the people in Cuba, the people in New York and the United States are very excited about the courage that your president, Raul Castro, has shown, and the leadership that he has shown,” Cuomo said. “We believe that this is going to be a dramatic change that is going to be to the benefit of the people of Cuba and also to the people of the United States.”

Obama loosened the trade embargo early this year with a series of executive actions that allow easier U.S. travel to Cuba, more remittances to the island and, at least on paper, U.S. exports to support the island’s relatively new private business sector.

Obama also moved to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terror, removing a barrier to access to the global financial system. Cuban officials have been pushing Obama to go further with measures that could include more specific federal licenses for U.S. businesses to trade with Cuba in ways currently prohibited.

“The president of the United States has the ability to grant licenses to businesses so that businesses can actually start developing right now in select areas and those are areas that we want to pursue,” Cuomo said.

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Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein

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