US re­moves all lim­its on bring­ing Cuban prod­ucts

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced Fri­day that it is elim­i­nat­ing a $100 limit on the value of Cuban rum and cigars that Amer­i­can trav­el­ers can bring back from the is­land. The ad­min­is­tra­tion is also lift­ing lim­its on cargo ship travel be­tween the US and Cuba and eas­ing US and Cuban re­searchers’ abil­ity to con­duct joint med­i­cal re­search. The mea­sures are con­tained in a new round of reg­u­la­tory changes meant to ease US trade with Cuba.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has now made six sets of changes loos­en­ing the US trade em­bargo on Cuba in hopes that the nor­mal­iza­tion of re­la­tions with the is­land will not be re­versed by a fu­ture ad­min­is­tra­tion. This round is ex­pected to be the last be­fore Pres­i­dent Barack Obama leaves of­fice.

Cuban rum and cigars will now be sub­ject to the same du­ties as al­co­hol and tobacco from other coun­tries, mean­ing most trav­el­ers will be able to bring back as many as 100 cigars and sev­eral bot­tles of rum. Be­cause high-end Cuban cigars can sell for more than $100 apiece out­side Cuba, ev­ery US trav­eler can now legally bring back many thou­sands of dol­lars of Cuban prod­ucts, po­ten­tially gen­er­at­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in new an­nual rev­enue for the Cuban state.

The change does not mean that Cuban rum and cigars will be avail­able for sale in the US the change is aimed at tobacco and al­co­hol brought home for per­sonal use. The pre­vi­ous limit re­stricted trav­el­ers to a com­bined value of $100 in rum and cigars, al­though en­force­ment of the limit no­tably de­clined af­ter Pres­i­dent Barack Obama de­clared de­tente with Cuba on Dec 17, 2014.

The head of US af­fairs at Cuba’s For­eign Min­istry, Jose­fina Vi­dal, said the mea­sures are “a sig­nif­i­cant step,” but she said they have “a very lim­ited char­ac­ter” and leave in place re­stric­tions on in­vest­ment in most parts of the Cuban econ­omy. She also com­plained that the ra­tio­nale for the mea­sures is that that they are meant to en­cour­age “sub­ver­sive” changes on the is­land. The ad­min­is­tra­tion has de­scribed its pol­icy goal as aimed at help­ing the Cuban peo­ple im­prove their lives by win­ning greater eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal free­dom from the sin­gle-party state.

Mu­tual in­ter­ests and val­ues

“Chal­lenges re­main - and very real dif­fer­ences be­tween our gov­ern­ments per­sist on is­sues of democ­racy and hu­man rights - but I be­lieve that en­gage­ment is the best way to ad­dress those dif­fer­ences and make progress on be­half of our in­ter­ests and val­ues,” Obama said in a state­ment an­nounc­ing the changes.

Rum and cigar pro­duc­tion is en­tirely govern­ment-run un­der Cuba’s cen­trally planned com­mu­nist econ­omy. While the first reg­u­la­tory changes fo­cused nar­rowly on help­ing Cuba’s grow­ing pri­vate sec­tor, Fri­day’s new rules are al­most en­tirely aimed at sim­i­larly state-run in­dus­tries in­clud­ing ship­ping and med­i­cal prod­ucts.

The new changes also al­low cargo ships to visit US ports di­rectly af­ter dock­ing in Cuba. They had been barred from US ports for 180 days af­ter vis­it­ing Cuba. Cuba blamed that mea­sure for harm­ing its abil­ity to im­port and ex­port and damp­en­ing hopes that a new mil­i­tary-run port in the city of Mariel could serve as a ma­jor link in the re­gional cargo ship­ping sys­tem. A se­nior Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said the new reg­u­la­tions’ fo­cus on Cuban state en­ter­prise should not be in­ter­preted as a shift away from help­ing or­di­nary Cubans. “We have de­signed the pol­icy very much to have the max­i­mum ben­e­fit to the Cuban peo­ple, broadly, but in so do­ing we are not re­strict­ing en­gage­ment with the Cuban state. That has been clear since Dec 17, 2014,” the of­fi­cial said in a con­fer­ence call with re­porters held on con­di­tion of anonymity. “The Cuban peo­ple con­tinue to be at the cen­ter of ev­ery­thing we’re do­ing.” More than 160,000 Amer­i­can trav­el­ers vis­ited Cuba last year and that fig­ure is ex­pected to double this year. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of Cuban-Amer­i­cans visit fam­ily on the is­land each year and will also be able to take ad­van­tage of the new mea­sure, which comes a month and a half be­fore the restart of com­mer­cial flights to Ha­vana af­ter more than 50 years. — AP

HA­VANA: This March 1, 2013 file photo shows a worker se­lect­ing cigars at the H Up­mann cigar fac­tory, where peo­ple can take tours as part of the 15th an­nual Cigar Fes­ti­val. — AP

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