“I come to Cuba with great emotion because it is the first time that a president of the French Republic has come to Cuba,” said Hollande in a speech on arrival at Havana’s airport.
The visit follows the start of Cuba-US dialogues, after more than five decades of Cold War, paving the way for normalisation of relations between Cuba and European countries.
“After Obama finally made the decision (on the relationship between Cuba and the US, France felt that together with Europe it should follow and work together (with Cuba),” he said ahead of meeting with his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro on Monday.
“There are historic ties, deep ties, between the people of France and the people of Cuba,” said Hollande whose visit aims at boosting French and European interests in Cuba.
The French president is travelling with five of his government officials and a couple of dozen business people.
They include executives from French companies including Air France, hotelier Accor and distiller Pernod Ricard, each of which already operates in Cuba but want to expand their business there with the potential end of the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba.
Trade between the two countries is modest with 348-million-euro a year, the balance in favour of France.
Several agreements are expected to be signed during the trip and Hollande said the accords would focus on improving access to Latin American markets.
But Stefan Selig the American Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, warned that Cuba is a “very very small market.”
“Cubans earn 224 euros per year,” he added saying that despite “ a great economic potential, the Cuban economy is not big enough to support massive opportunities, whether for French or American companies.”