By Doreen Hemlock
The Obama administration on Friday opened the door to trade with Cuba a bit more, a move that could benefit South Florida.
New rules from the State Department authorized U.S. imports of some goods and services from independent entrepreneurs in Cuba, further easing the 54-year-old U.S. embargo against the communist-led island.
“It’s now up to the Cuban government,” said Augusto Maxwell, chair of the Cuba practice at law firm Akerman LLP in Miami.
The rules are part of broader U.S. policy announced in December to re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba and empower the Cuban people. Allowing imports can help Cuban entrepreneurs “gain greater economic independence from the state,” a news release said.
Friday’s rules set strict limits on what goods Americans can import from independent Cuban entrepreneurs, a group that now includes more than 450,000 people licensed on the island as “self-employed.”
Americans can’t import many of the items most associated with Cuba: classic cars, boxes of cigars, cases of rum or even prepared foods. Vegetables, minerals and many other basics also are banned.
Furthermore, Cuban entrepreneurs so far tend to make only small volumes of soap, furniture or other goods that may be allowed, limiting potential opportunities for trade today, lawyers said.
But the U.S. rules at least start the ball rolling for U.S. importers by specifying paperwork needed, including a copy of the self-employment license issued to the Cuban entrepreneur, Maxwell said.
“These types of announcements are going to keep coming, as the United States moves to normalize relations with Cuba,” said Peter Quinter of Fort Lauderdale, who chairs the international law section on the Florida Bar. “Eventually, Cuba will be a significant trade partner. There are historic ties and a lot of potential for business to the benefit of both our economies.”
At least three seminars are set for South Florida next week organized by various law firms and business groups to discuss the changes in U.S. policy on Cuba and their potential business impact.
One possible winner from the latest import move: Shipping line Crowley. It already operates a route to Cuba carrying U.S. food items and gift packages from Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades.
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