The Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Department of Commerce announced new amendments to Cuban policy to "further implement the new direction toward Cuba" announced by President Obama in December 2014.

The changes that took effect January 27, 2016, follow sweeping regulatory adjustments issued in September 2015, and impact businesses in the financial, agriculture, cargo, transportation, and travel industries.

Some of the highlights include:

  • U.S. banks will be allowed to provide direct financing for U.S. exports of non-agricultural commodities, rather than paying in advance in cash or shipping through a third country. U.S. depository institutions will be authorized to provide financing, including, for example, issuing a letter of credit for such exports and re-exports. Financing of agricultural exports, however, is still prohibited under the embargo.
  • A case-by-case licensing policy will allow U.S. exports to state-owned entities as long as they provide goods and services to the Cuban people and don't primarily generate revenue for the Cuban state.
  • Changes to travel regulations will make it easier to film movies, television, and music. Americans will also now be able to organize events in Cuba, whereas previously they were only authorized to attend.
  • Authorization of entry into blocked space, code-sharing, and leasing arrangements to facilitate the provision of carrier services by air, including the entry into such arrangements with a national of Cuba.
  • Authorization of transactions to organize amateur and semi-professional international sporting events and sports clinics, workshops, and exhibitions in Cuba.

The success of these measures will depend mostly on whether the Cuban government responds with its own reforms to meet the growing demand for economic opportunity and to illustrate its willingness to accept and facilitate American foreign investment on the island. At this time, some of the activities the new U.S. regulations allow U.S. companies to engage in are not yet permitted by the Cuban government.

The easing of sanctions is slowly leading to an increase in commercial interactions with Cuba. In November, Alabama-based tractor company Cleber became the first U.S. company authorized to do business at a free trade zone in Cuba's Port of Mariel, a Brazilian financed deep-water port. Also, the Tampa Bay Rays won the Major League Baseball lottery to play an exhibition game in Cuba this spring, likely against the Cuba national team.