On 15 January 2015, the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) within the US Department of Commerce issued amendments to the Export Administration Regulations to implement the policy changes announced by President Obama on 17 December 2014 concerning US-Cuba relations.  Similarly, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) within the US Department of the Treasury issued amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations to implement the changes announced by the President.

For decades, the United States has maintained a comprehensive embargo on trade with Cuba. Pursuant to that embargo, all items that are subject to the Export Administration Regulations require a license for export or reexport to Cuba unless authorized by a license exception. The BIS, which administers Cuban export and reexport restrictions, has added new license exceptions to implement the changes announced by the President. In particular, the BIS amendments enable the export and reexport to Cuba of items intended to empower the nascent Cuban private sector by supporting private economic activity. Items include building materials for use by the private sector to construct or renovate privately-owned buildings including privately-owned residences, businesses, places of worship and buildings for private sector social or recreational use; goods for use by private sector entrepreneurs such as auto mechanics, barbers and hairstylists and restaurateurs; and tools and equipment for private sector agricultural activity. Additionally, the amendments enable the export to Cuba of certain items intended to contribute to the ability of the Cuban people to communicate with one another and with people in the United States and the rest of the world. Those exports include commercial sales of items for the establishment and upgrade of communications-related systems as well as certain consumer communications devices, related software, applications, and hardware.  The text of the new rule adopted by the BIS is availablehere.

The amendments issued by OFAC—which operate in conjunction with the amendments issued by the BIS—facilitate travel to Cuba for authorized purposes, facilitate the provision by travel agents and airlines of authorized travel services and the forwarding by certain entities of authorized remittances, raise the limit on certain categories of remittances to Cuba, allow US financial institutions to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to facilitate the processing of authorized transactions, authorize certain transactions with Cuban nationals located outside of Cuba, and allow a number of other activities related to, among other areas, telecommunications, financial services, trade, and shipping. The text of the new rule adopted by OFAC is available here.

These sweeping changes significantly ease sanctions on Cuba, and open up the country to expanded trade and financial activities with persons affected by the US restrictions.  The New York office of Herbert Smith Freehills has handled a wide range of matters related to the various US sanctions programs and stands ready to assist businesses seeking sanctions-related advice.