U.S. eases restrictions on imports from private Cubans

Fri Feb 13, 2015 8:09pm 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 State Department said many goods were excluded from the liberalization, including tobacco, vegetable products 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 was now allowed except in certain broad categories, including live animals, vehicles, mineral products, machinery and some base metals. Exports of all services are permitted.

A full list of the excluded goods can be found on the State Department website. (1.usa.gov/1zdl0Ct)

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

Of greater significance may be the opening up for services, which could allow Cuban graphic designers, computer programmers, market researchers or party planners to acquire U.S. clients.

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.   Continued...

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