President Obama deepened diplomatic engagement with Cuba on Friday as the Treasury and Commerce Departments issued a range of regulations concerning visitors to the island.
WASHINGTON – Cigar and rum aficionados, rejoice! New rules issued Friday by the Commerce and Treasury Departments will allow Americans visiting Cuba to carry home as many cigars and and as much rum as they like – as long as the items are for personal use.
That rule change accompanied a wide-ranging policy directive issued by President Barack Obama aimed at deepening cooperation between the two countries on multiple fronts. Among the changes are new measures to forecast tropical storms, expand air and water transport connections. and explore potential counter-terrorism cooperation.
What the revised Treasury and Commerce regulations won’t do is stock the shelves of American tobacconists and liquor stores with Cuban products. An ongoing embargo on Cuba prevents businesses from importing goods manufactured in the island nation, and American visitors will be limited to bringing home “for personal use, and normal limits on duty and tax exemptions will apply.”
Nevertheless, the rule change is being met with excitement.
“Cuban tobacco and alcohol products are two of the most sought after commodities for U.S. tourists,” said Lawrence Ward, an international lawyer at Dorsey & Whitney who specializes in international trade compliance law. “Lifting the limit of the value of these – and other – goods that Americans can bring back to the United States for personal use undoubtedly will have a positive impact on the Cuban economy.”
Obama used the occasion of Friday’s policy directive to repeat his appeals to Congress to lift the embargo on Cuba. Some 20 months since Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced a warming of relations, congressional leaders continue to hold up reconsideration of the embargo until the next presidential administration.
Undeterred, Obama said Friday that he will continue “to pursue policies that enable authorized U.S. private sector engagement with Cuba’s emerging private sector and with state-owned enterprises that provide goods and services to the Cuban people.”
“Challenges remain, and very real differences between our governments persist on issues of democracy and human rights,” Obama said of U.S.-Cuba relations, “but I believe that engagement is the best way to address those differences and make progress on behalf of our interests and values.”