The rapidly improving relationship between the United States and Cuba will take a giant step on Wednesday, with the publication of new rules from the Treasury Department and the Commerce Department meant to increase the flow of goods and services between the two countries, facilitate air travel, and loosen restrictions on U.S. financial institutions that want to provide credit and other services related to trade with Cuba.
“Today’s amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations build on successive actions over the last year and send a clear message to the world: the United States is committed to empowering and enabling economic advancements for the Cuban people,” Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in a prepared statement. “We have been working to enable the free flow of information between Cubans and Americans and will continue to take the steps necessary to help the Cuban people achieve the political and economic freedom that they deserve.”
Since late 2014, the Obama administration has been working to build a new relationship with the island, which has been ruled for more than a generation by Communist strongman Fidel Castro and, in recent years, his brother Raul. Over the space of 50 years, the U.S. built up a web of sanctions around Cuba, including a trade and travel embargo that severely strained U.S. ties with the island nation.
The new rules, which will take effect when they are published in tomorrow’s Federal Register, will allow U.S. banks to fund the export of a much wider range of goods, to Cuba. A notable exception is agricultural commodities and other agriculture related items. Lifting that particular ban would require Congressional action. (The actual export of agricultural commodities and other commodities will be allowed – U.S. banks just won’t be able to participate in the transaction.)
Among the items that U.S. individuals and companies will be allowed to export to Cuba are the equipment U.S.-based news organizations would need to establish bureaus there, software and other commodities for human rights and civil society organizations.
Other goods, according to the Treasury Department are “items for agricultural production; artistic endeavor (including the creation of public content, historic and cultural works and preservation); education; food processing; disaster preparedness, relief and response; public health and sanitation; residential construction and renovation; public transportation; and the construction of infrastructure that directly benefits the Cuban people (e.g., facilities for treating public water supplies and supplying energy to the general public).”
The rule also establishes the eligibility of Cuban air carriers to enter arrangements allowing the use of U.S. airports, and loosens some travel restrictions.
“Looking ahead, we will continue to support greater economic independence and increased prosperity for the Cuban people, as we take another step toward building a more open and mutually beneficial relationship between our two nations,” Said Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.