The US has told nine executives of the Canadian mining company Sherritt International that they will be barred from visiting. Two are British - the former Bank of England deputy Governor Rupert Pennant-Rea, and Sir Patrick Sheehy, former non-executive chairman of BAT Industries.
"By penalising the investment interests of its closest allies, the United States is damaging transatlantic relations and giving comfort to those it seeks to challenge," Ian Lang, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, told the American Chamber of Commerce in London yesterday. "We are under considerable pressure to introduce countermeasures." The Foreign Office said the two men's business dealings were "entirely legitimate in the eyes of the British, Canadian and Cuban governments".
In Washington, Britain delivered a fiercely worded protest to the State Department over what one diplomat called the "disgraceful and preposterous" blacklisting.
It is not just the content of the US actions which has so angered Britain and other countries. The US regularly claims to be able to apply its laws to companies outside its jurisdiction, a practice known as extraterritoriality. "US arrogance is what really sticks in the throat," one lawyer said yesterday. A series of damaging disputes over financial services, trade with the former Soviet Union and taxation has regularly bedevilled transatlantic ties over the last few years. But Britain and Europe seem less willing this time to give in to what they regard as American blackmail.
"Although we support the United States' aim of bringing about democracy in Cuba . . . we reject these methods," Mr Lang said yesterday.
The US aim is to prevent foreigners from doing business in Cuba. Sherritt has assets there which the US claims were confiscated from Americans after the Cuban revolution, and the Helms-Burton Act allows for a graduated series of sanctions to penalise such companies. The other two companies likely to suffer the same fate as Sherritt are the Italian telecoms group Stet and the Mexican mining company Grupo Domo.
The Government is studying a range of possible moves to retaliate. Tit- for-tat bans on individual American citizens seeking to visit Britain would be hard to introduce. More likely, officials say, is a strengthening of the little-used Protection from Trading Restraints Act, which permits recovery in British courts of damages suffered abroad. A formidable batch of countermeasures are being planned around the world. The European Union President Jacques Santer will write to President Bill Clinton spelling out the threat to retaliate, and officials in Brussels will present a list of options to EU foreign ministers on Monday.
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