U.S. eases restrictions on imports from private Cubans

Fri Feb 13, 2015 5:23pm EST
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By David Adams, Arshad Mohammed and Lesley Wroughton

HAVANA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Friday 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 U.S. 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.

The U.S. 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. (1.usa.gov/1zdl0Ct)

The move is the latest step toward normalization after the United States and Cuba agreed on Dec. 17 to begin the process of restoring diplomatic ties and U.S. President Barack Obama called for an end to the long economic embargo against its old Cold War enemy.

"They are changing the thrust of U.S. 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."

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.   Continued...

A customer (center R) waits to be served an ice cream in downtown Havana, February 12, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini