US further eases trade, travel restrictions on Cuba

GMT 19:48 2015 Friday ,18 September

Arab Today, arab today US further eases trade, travel restrictions on Cuba

US travelers authorized to go to Cuba
Washington - AFP

The United States further eased restrictions on business and travel with Cuba Friday, as it presses forward in rebuilding long-frozen relations with its former Cold War foe.

Two months after formally restoring diplomatic relations with Havana, the US made it easier for Americans to establish and operate businesses in Cuba, removed remittance limits, and widened travel opportunities to the Caribbean island nation.

It also cleared up small, but for businesses, irksome restrictions that had prevented representatives of US businesses working in other countries from taking their own computers into Cuba, and which blocked the use in the United States of Cuban-developed apps for cellphones and computers.

The new moves further break down the sanctions that were in place since the early 1960s until President Barack Obama reversed course by announcing an opening to the communist country last December.

And taken together, they make it easier for US companies, including those of the large community of Cuban-Americans, and Cuban entrepreneurs to begin building businesses in the communist Cuban economy.

But many of the allowed activities still apply to a limited list of "authorized" travelers and businesses, as Washington continues to move cautiously and Obama administration policy remains hamstrung by the sweeping 1996 Helms-Burton law which toughened the original 1960 embargo on Cuba.

The changes issued by the Treasury and Commerce departments removed limits on remittances from the United States to Cuba, as well as on the amount of money people hand-carry to Cuba.

Authorized US travelers to Cuba will be able to open bank accounts there, form joint ventures with Cuban firms, and open offices, warehouses and retail outlets.

"A stronger, more open US-Cuba relationship has the potential to create economic opportunities for both Americans and Cubans alike," said Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.

"By further easing these sanctions, the United States is helping to support the Cuban people in their effort to achieve the political and economic freedom necessary to build a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba."

- Tourist visits still banned -

The new moves expand on earlier easings of trade and travel restrictions begun in January, and take effect on Monday.

They allow Cubans traveling to the United States to open bank accounts; allow any American to do business with Cubans outside of Cuba; and further ease restrictions on companies providing air and sea travel services to Cuba.

They clarify that those authorized to open offices and businesses in Cuba include US exporters of permitted goods like farm products and construction materials; providers of telecommunications and Internet services; news bureaus; and education and religious groups.

"The regulations published today are designed to support the emerging Cuban private sector," said US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.
"In addition to expanding our commercial engagement with the Cuban people, these additional adjustments have the potential to stimulate long overdue economic reform across the country."

Senior Obama administration officials noted that the Cuban government itself needs to take actions to let more US-related business blossom.

"Obviously the impact of these changes will in fact depend a great deal on what the Cubans themselves do. Businesses tell us they are looking for the Cubans to take certain steps, allow the private sector to flourish," one official, insisting he remain anonymous, told journalists.

Despite the changes, the ban on general US tourist visits to Cuba remains in place, and the government continues to restrict visits to 12 categories of travelers. However, Cuban-Americans generally are allowed to travel there on family visits.

And there are many categories of goods that cannot be traded with Cuba.

Moreover, regularly scheduled air flights to the country are still not allowed; travel to Cuba remains restricted to "authorized travelers" and not general tourism and trade; and there are still significant restrictions on the sale of many US goods to Cuba.

But in a move that could be a step toward regular flights and travel eventually, the new rules also permit the sale of a wide range of civil aviation-related goods that will help Cuban airlines improve their safety and operating standards, like safety equipment, aircraft parts, software and technology, and security screening equipment.


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