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US to Canada: Play With Cuba, You'll Pay

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IN the late 1960s, former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was on a list of persons forbidden entry to the United States for desiring closer economic ties with Fidel Castro Ruz's Cuba, which the US was embargoing.

Now executives from a number of Canadian companies doing business in Cuba are contemplating the uncomfortable prospect that they, too, may soon be barred from crossing into the US.

A new law, signed by President Clinton on March 12, imposes sanctions on people or companies who buy, lease, or profit from property in Cuba confiscated from US owners after Mr. Castro came to power in 1959. The law may affect, for example, about a dozen Canadian companies mining nickel in Cuba.

"A lot of Canadians feel annoyed that this law puts a Canadian businessperson on the same list with terrorists... [like] Abu Nidal and Saddam Hussein," says John Kirk, a Cuba specialist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Four years ago, the US Congress extended an economic embargo of Cuba to include Canadian subsidiaries of US companies doing business in Cuba.

Despite this, two-way trade between Canada and Cuba has doubled to about C$600 million ($400 million) since 1994, making Canada Castro's largest international trading partner.

A bill, sponsored last year by Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of N.C. and Rep. Dan Burton (R) of Ind., aimed at crimping Canada's expanding trade with Castro. Mr. Clinton initially refused to sign it into law. But after the downing of a plane piloted by Cuban-Americans outside Cuban waters Feb. 24, he did.

Canadian business in Cuba is going so well that the law is unlikely to affect long-term plans for investment, analysts say. But it already has had the short-term effect of making Canadian company officials wary of raising their profile with US competitors who might sue them, Professor Kirk says.

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