On January 27, 2016 the Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) and the Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) published amendments to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) (Link) and Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) (Link).  These amendments further loosen aspects of the Cuba embargo in line with the President’s December 2014 initiative:

  • Trade Finance – OFAC added a new general license authorizing payment and financing terms, including letters of credit, for U.S. exports and reexports of 100 percent U.S.-origin items from a third country so long as they (a) are authorized by the BIS and (b) not related to agriculture or commodities.  OFAC’s previous policy restricted financing for exports to cash-in-advance or third-country financing.
  • Trade and Business Licensing Opportunities – BIS established a new case-by-case licensing policy to permit exports and reexports “meeting the needs of the Cuban people,” including exports and reexports destined for state-owned enterprises, agencies and other organizations of the Cuban government.  BIS provided a list of examples including agricultural production, artistic endeavors, education, food processing, disaster preparedness, relief and response, public health and sanitation, residential construction/renovation and public transportation.  BIS suggested that the types of eligible items could include water treatment, electrical generation facilities, athletic facilities and other infrastructure beneficial to the Cuban people.  The new licensing policy opens the door for U.S. companies to consider a range of possible exports.  Areas that are still off-limits include items that primarily generate revenue for the state (including tourism and extractive industries) or are destined to Cuban intelligence and security services.
  • Travel Authorizations for Business – OFAC expanded the general license for travel to Cuba to include travel-related transactions for market research, commercial marketing, sales or contract negotiations, accompanied delivery, installation, leasing, or servicing in Cuba of items consistent BIS export and licensing policy.  In addition, OFAC expanded its previous authorization for attending professional meetings to also allow organizing such meetings.
  • Aviation and Vessels – OFAC expanded the general license relating to carrier services between the United States and Cuba to allow the entry into blocked space, code-sharing, and leasing arrangements, including with Cuban nationals.  Transactions related to travel between the United States and Cuba by aircraft or vessel on temporary sojourn and transactions by personnel required for normal operation and service of such aircraft and vessel also are authorized.  BIS has adopted a general policy of approval for items necessary for safety of civil aviation including the export or reexport of aircraft leased to state-owned enterprises.
  • Telecom / Electronics – BIS now “will generally approve license applications for exports and reexports of telecommunications items that would improve communications to, from, and among the Cuban people.”  BIS policy will also be more favorable with respect to items and software related to civil society and news gathering.
  • Public Performances.  OFAC expanded the general license for public performances, clinics and workshops to not only those participating in the event but to those organizing it, provided the event is open for attendance and, in relevant situations, participation by the Cuban public.
  • Media and Artistic Activities.  OFAC expanded the general license for travel related transactions directly incident to the exportation, importation or transmission of informational materials.  This includes transactions directly incident to professional media or artistic productions, including filming movies and television programs, music recording and the creation of art works in Cuba by travelers with professional experience in these areas.

Notwithstanding these changes to the Cuba regulations, it is important to emphasize that the Cuba embargo still remains in force and cannot be lifted without congressional authorization.  Transactions outside the scope of BIS license exceptions or OFAC general licenses remain prohibited unless specifically licensed.