After the first U.S. commercial flight landed in Cuban in over 50 years, normalized relations between the U.S. and Cuba are moving at a fast pace. Recently, the former adversaries further improved ties by agreeing to ease trade restrictions for the sixth time following months of negotiations. As anticipation grows for the repeal of the U.S. trade embargo, a systematic removal of sanctions serve as a testing sample for the capacity Cuban companies have to meet expected demand from U.S. consumers.
While lifting the import limit of $100 on Cuban rum and cigars for tourists is dominating the headlines with this latest round of easing, the U.S. Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) made significant changes relevant to U.S. businesses. For example, professional services from engineering and architecture firms now have permission to work on projects to support the modernization of Cuba’s infrastructure.
Trade & e-commerce
- OFAC increased the export of goods from the U.S. to Cuba and clarified the authorization for exports and re-exports to Cuba.
- OFAC removed the ban on cargo ships docking at U.S. ports after visiting Cuba, and also removed a requirement for vessels to travel 180 days before returning to a U.S. port.
- BIS authorized the transport of air cargo into Cuba.
- BIS approved the export of specific consumer goods sold online for personal use by Cuban consumers.
- The Cuban government restricts internet access in the country, but the advent of e-commerce sets the stage for the development of more web accessibility.
- A new communications provision allowed AT&T to provide a network for travelers in Cuba.
- With eased telecommunication sanctions, the Cuban people will have more available telecom products to access the internet.
Medical & Pharmaceutical
- The OFAC general license authorized commercial joint medical research.
- Pending approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Cuban pharmaceutical products are eligible for importing and offer lower-cost prescription options for U.S. consumers.
- The new measures permit U.S. firms to expand scientific research and cooperation in Cuba, which also includes medical research and access to study Cuba’s health care system.
Tourism & Travel
- Reduced tourism sanctions will help boost the Cuban economy with over 300,000 expected U.S. tourists over the next year.
- Americans can now travel to Cuba to attend and host professional meetings and conferences related to tourism.
- Travelers must now define their purpose for visiting Cuba from one of the twelve broad categories.
Although the previous rounds of easing had a wider impact, these current moves accelerate constructive changes and could potentially unlock exponential economic opportunity for both countries. However, many skeptics wonder if these policies are helping Cuba become more independent because the issues of personal freedom and civil rights remain unchanged. But this collaboration between the two countries seems to be working towards achieving more freedom for the Cuban people, especially exemplified by the thousands who gathered to protest against the U.S. Embargo at the University of Havana on October 17, 2016. The Cuban government allowed for an expansion of the internet for this event. And the Cuban people responded by sharing their beliefs on social media about further expanding ties with America and asking their government to end the embargo. Hopefully, this momentum continues under the next U.S. President.