US eases some restrictions on Cuban imports for personal use

Alicia Nicholls

On October 14, 2016 the United States Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) announced further amendments to the Cuba Sanctions Regulations. These changes became effective today (October 17, 2016) and include not just an ease on restrictions of Cuban imports, including alcohol and cigars, for personal use, but also facilitation of joint Cuba-US medical research and a variety of other trade measures.

Since the early 1960s, successive US governments have imposed an illegal economic, commercial and financial embargo on Cuba which is not only contrary to international law but has hindered the country’s economy development. In December 2014 US President Barack Obama outlined a new direction to normalise Cuba-US relations. Efforts at normalisation since 2014 have included, inter alia, the removal of Cuba from the US State Sponsors of Terrorism List in May 2015, the re-opening of embassies in July 2015 and the progressive relaxation of some sanctions.

However, US congressional action is needed to reverse the embargo. The embargo has been widely condemned by the international community. On October 26th, the UN General Assembly will be called on for the 25th consecutive year to vote on a Cuba-introduced resolution calling for an end to the five-decade long embargo.

Current Amendments to Cuba Sanctions Programme 

The current tranche of amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) and the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) cover the following three broad areas:

  • Expanding opportunities for scientific collaboration and access to medical innovations
  • Facilitate increased humanitarian support, grant opportunities and improve Cuban infrastructure
  • Bolster trade and commercial activities and the growth of Cuba’s private sector

Some of the specific amendments are as follows:

  • Authorisation of joint-medical research with Cuban nationals for non-commercial and commercial research
  • Importation , marketing, sale and distribution in the US of FDA-approved Cuba-origin pharmaceuticals
  • Persons who engage in those above activities will be allowed to open and maintain bank accounts in Cuba for use in conducting authorised business
  • Authorisation of grants, scholarships and awards to Cuba or Cuban nationals for scientific research and religious activities
  • Authorisation of persons subject to US jurisdiction to provide services to Cuba or Cuban nationals relating to developing, repairing, maintaining and enhancing certain Cuban infrastructure to directly benefit the Cuban people
  • Removal of monetary value limitations on what authorised travelers may import from Cuba into the US as accompanied luggage. These include Cuban alcohol and cigars. However, the imports must be for personal use and normal limits on duty and tax exemptions will apply.
  • BIS will generally authorise exports of certain consumer goods that are sold online or through other means directly to eligible individuals in Cuba for their personal use
  • Expanded general license by OFAC authorising persons subject to US jurisdiction to enter into certain contingent contracts for transactions currently prohibited by the embargo, subject to conditions.
  • OFAC authorisation of importation into the US or a third country of items previously exported or re-exported to Cuba under a BIS or OFAC authorisation

Comprehensive information on all of the amendments may be obtained via the US Treasury Department’s website here.

 Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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