Top Obama administration official wraps up Cuba trip

Havana, Cuba (CNN)The U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker wrapped up a two-day visit to Cuba Wednesday, part of an effort to sell officials on the idea of closer business ties with their former Cold War enemy.

Cuba banned all private enterprise and foreign investment following Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution and the U.S. trade embargo still prohibits most U.S. economic activity with the Communist-run island.
But the warming of relations between the two countries, Pritzker said, indicated more U.S. economic activity in the off-limits island could soon be a reality.
"The government officials I have met with have been very forward leaning and wanting more American direct investment," Pritzker told CNN in an interview. "We obviously have limitations under what we can do under our own laws. So we are trying to find places where we can do things together now."
    Pritzker met with the country's ministers of foreign affairs and foreign investment and toured Mariel, the site of a $1 billion investment to create what Cuban officials hope will become a major shipping hub in the Caribbean.
    She is the second U.S. cabinet official to visit the island since Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution. In August, Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to the island to officially re-open the U.S. Embassy in Havana.
    U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced a breakthrough to restore diplomatic ties last December. Obama has called on Congress to lift the U.S. trade embargo on the island and many American companies are eager to do business once again in Cuba.
    Cuba has reported a spike in U.S. visitors, and American cruise ship companies and airlines have said they hope to soon provide regular service to the island.
    But Pritzker cautioned that Cuban government red tape -- like a requirement that all international companies contract their employees through the state-run agencies -- also limits foreign investment.
    "We don't understand how is it that you hire people, how does it work?" she said. "Imagine if you are a business owner. You want to hire who you want to hire."
    Despite the differences that remain, U.S. and Cuban officials have both said there are plenty of areas where the countries can collaborate.
    And, officials acknowledge, the end of the Obama administration may be the best window to continue improving the U.S.-Cuba relationship.
    "How do we do more together to show the U.S. Congress there's a reason to lift the embargo?" Pritzker asked.