World Economy

US Eases Curbs on Imports From Cuba

US Eases Curbs on Imports From CubaUS Eases Curbs on Imports From Cuba

The United States has eased restrictions on imports of goods and services from private Cuban entrepreneurs as part of Washington’s rapprochement with Havana after more than half a century of enmity.

However, the US State Department said many goods were excluded from the liberalization, including tobacco, vegetables and some textiles, and it was unclear whether Cuba would relax its own rules to permit Cubans to export to the United States, VoA reported.

The US State Department said the import of all goods and services was now allowed except in certain broad categories, which also include live animals, vehicles, mineral products, machinery and some base metals. A full list of the exclusions can be found on the State Department website.

The move was the latest step toward normalization after the United States and Cuba agreed Dec. 17 to begin restoring diplomatic ties and President Barack Obama called for an end to the long economic embargo against his nation’s old Cold War enemy.

“They are changing the thrust of US policy to allow the private sector in Cuba to blossom,’’ said Pedro Freyre, chair of law firm Akerman LLP’s international practice. “Of course, there are two ends to this. We are still waiting to see how it is going to play out in Cuba.’’

  Some Exceptions

Under Cuban law, private sector entrepreneurs cannot independently import and export products or services without a government license. However, artists are allowed to sell their work to foreigners, and there is also an exotic bird cooperative that obtained a license in 2013.

Philip Peters, president of the Cuba Research Center in Alexandria, Virginia, said the step put the ball in Cuba’s court to see how it would react to opening up the private sector.

“It’s a very important barrier that’s been broken. We’ll see how the Cuban government reacts,’’ he said, saying Obama was opening up trade in broad categories. “He’s not micromanaging. President Obama is leaving it to the imagination of both sides.’’

It was not immediately clear, however, what Cuban goods would find their way to the US market. One sanctions expert suggested that these could include such items as artisanal soap, pottery and jewelry.

After 18 months of secret talks, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed in a Dec. 17 phone call on a breakthrough prisoner exchange, the formal reopening of embassies and an easing of some restrictions on commerce.