The United States has announced new measures to further ease trade and financial restrictions on Cuba. The changes are part of a process to normalize relations between the two former Cold War foes.
The package of small-scale regulations aims to boost trade and investment, expand scientific collaboration and allow greater humanitarian support for the impoverished communist-ruled island, the US government said Friday.
"This new directive consolidates and builds upon the changes we've already made … and encourages further engagement between our countries and our people," US President Barack Obama said.
The measures also remove limits on the amount of Cuban rum and cigars American travelers can bring back from the island. Those products will now be subject to the same duties as alcohol and tobacco from other countries, which means each US traveler can legally bring home as many as 100 cigars and several bottles of rum for personal use. That change could potentially generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new annual revenue for the Cuban state.
Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a statement the regulations sought to break down economic barriers and give Cubans greater access to US goods and services.
"These steps have the potential to accelerate constructive change and unlock greater economic opportunity for Cubans and Americans," he said.
New era in relations
The new regulations are set to take effect on Monday. They are the sixth set of changes to loosen the US trade embargo on Cuba, and are likely to be the last round before Obama leaves office in January. A 50-year-old trade embargo on Cuba that can only be lifted by the US Congress is still in place.
Barack Obama met with Raul Castro in March, becoming the first US leader to visit Cuba in almost nine decades
Washington has increasingly relaxed restrictions on commerce and travel with the island since Presidents Obama and Raul Castro reached an agreement in late 2014 to normalize relations. Diplomatic ties were formally restored in 2015, when both countries reopened their respective embassies.
Other changes announced Friday include removing limits on cargo ship travel between the US and Cuba, allowing US companies to provide safety services for commercial aircraft in Cuba, and allowing Cuban pharmaceutical firms to apply for US Food and Drug Administration approval.
nm/jm (AP, dpa, Reuters)