WASHINGTON – The U.S. government on Friday announced new measures to ease the economic embargo on Cuba, including regulations that will promote joint medical research and help improve the Communist-ruled island’s agricultural sector and infrastructure.
The departments of Commerce and Treasury unveiled the new amendments to the sanctions regime imposed on Cuba under the decades-old economic embargo.
They are due to take effect on Monday after being published in the Federal Register.
The new regulations will facilitate joint medical research projects linking U.S. and Cuban citizens and allow imports of Cuban-made pharmaceutical products that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Authorized American citizens also will be permitted to offer services related to the development, repair and maintenance of infrastructure in Cuba.
For many Americans, the most welcome change is one that will allow visitors to the island to bring back an unlimited amount of Cuban tobacco and rum in their luggage for personal use.
In the agricultural area, the United States will be able to export pesticides, tractors and other products without them being subject to limited payment and financing terms that require cash in advance or third-country financing.
Another restriction was lifted that prevented foreign vessels from loading or unloading freight at a U.S. port for 180 days after calling on a Cuban port for trade purposes.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in a statement that the changes announced Friday would enable “more scientific collaboration, grants and scholarships, people-to-people contact and private-sector growth.”
“These steps have the potential to accelerate constructive change and unlock greater economic opportunity for Cubans and Americans,” Lew added.
Also Friday, President Obama approved a presidential policy directive aimed at making the U.S.-Cuba thaw “irreversible.”
He said it built upon changes already made, including the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, the opening of embassies and the expansion of travel and commerce between the two countries.
In the directive, Obama listed six objectives for U.S.-Cuban relations in the medium term: government-to-government interaction, engagement and connectivity, expanded commerce, economic reform, respect for human rights and Cuban integration into international and regional systems.
Among other things, the policy directive set a goal of increasing Internet access in Cuba from 5 percent to 50 percent of the population by 2020 and called for a full lifting of the embargo.
“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 announcing the directive.
Since the U.S.-Cuba bilateral thaw began in December 2014, Obama has issued several executive measures to ease the economic embargo on Cuba.
A complete lifting of the 54-year-old embargo will depend on Congress, which the Republicans currently control.