Category Archives: Caribbean Basin

FIRST LEGAL CARGO FROM CUBA IN MORE THAN HALF-CENTURY ARRIVES IN THE U.S.

Yesterday, the first legal cargo from Cuba in more than 50 years arrived in the United States. Two containers containing 40 tons of artisanal charcoal arrived by sea at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. The charcoal, made from Cuban marabu, produces a highly efficient burning charcoal.

Once in the United States, the charcoal will be packaged in 33-pound bags under the brand name Fogo. The charcoal will be sold to restaurants and online directly to consumers. Cuban marabu charcoal has excellent heating qualities, it does not produce sparks, and burns long and clean, making it desirable for restaurant pizza and bread ovens.

Cuban marabu is made from an invasive woody plant from Africa that is considered a nuisance in Cuba. The marabu charcoal is produced by private, worker-owned cooperatives. The charcoal is sold by the cooperatives to a local packager, which sells it on to state-run export firm CubaExport. Products of cooperative farms in Cuba can be exported to the United States under the exemptions to the U.S. embargo permitted by President Obama.

The Obama Administration eased restrictions on imports of goods and services from private Cuban entrepreneurs in early 2015. The new regulations set forth a list of goods that are prohibited from being exported to the U.S., such as livestock, food products, ammunition, metals and minerals. Other products are eligible for export if they were produced by private Cuban entrepreneurs and are not on the list of prohibited items.

Jose A. Aquino (@JoseAquinoEsq on Twitter) is a special counsel in the New York office of Duane Morris LLP, and a member of the Duane Morris Cuba Business Group. This blog is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual attorneys.

Obama Administration Promotes Expanded Opportunities With Cuba.

On Friday, October 14, 2016, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) issued new amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) and Export Administration Regulations (EAR). OFAC is the federal agency responsible for enforcement of U.S. international economic sanctions. BIS is the federal agency responsible for developing export control policies, issuing export licenses, and prosecuting violations.

The Obama Administration is making these amendments in further support normalizing bilateral relations with Cuba. The objective of the new rules is to facilitate greater engagement between the United States and Cuba across multiple sectors. The OFAC and BIS regulations were previously amended on January 16, June 15, and September 21, 2015, and January 27 and March 16, 2016 to implement President Obama’s policy to further engage and empower the Cuban people.

“President Obama’s historic announcement in December 2014 charted a new course for a stronger, more open U.S.-Cuba relationship,” said Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew. “The Treasury Department has worked to break down economic barriers in areas such as travel, trade and commerce, banking, and telecommunications. Today’s action builds on this progress by enabling more scientific collaboration, grants and scholarships, people-to-people contact, and private sector growth. These steps have the potential to accelerate constructive change and unlock greater economic opportunity for Cubans and Americans.”

“These amendments will create more opportunities for Cuban citizens to access American goods and services, further strengthening the ties between our two countries,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.

Among other things, the new amendments add and expand authorizations of transactions related to Cuban-origin pharmaceuticals and joint medical research, trade and commerce, civil aviation safety-related services, travel to Cuba, and humanitarian services designed to directly benefit the Cuban people. Some of the changes, which go into effect on October 17, 2016, are:

  • Cuban-developed pharmaceuticals will be able to gain approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA-approved Cuban-origin pharmaceuticals can be imported, marketed, sold and distributed in the United States.
  • Americans will be allowed to engage in joint medical research projects with Cuban nationals. Both non-commercial and commercial research projects will be permissible.
  • Americans engaged in approved health-related activities will be allowed to open and maintain bank accounts in Cuba for use in conducting the authorized busines
  • Americans will be permitted to enter into certain contingent contracts for trade with Cuba.
  • Americans who travel to Cuba will no longer be limited to bringing back goods worth up to $400, including $100 worth of tobacco and alcohol. OFAC is removing the monetary value limitations on what authorized travelers may import from Cuba into the United States. Normal limits on Americans’ importation of foreign products for personal use will apply to U. S. Citizens traveling from Cuba. OFAC is also removing the prohibition on Americans purchasing and bringing into the United States for personal use Cuban products obtained while traveling in third countries. Similarly, foreign travelers may bring Cuban-origin alcohol and tobacco products into the United States for personal use.
  • OFAC will waive the restriction prohibiting foreign vessels from entering a U.S. port for purposes of loading or unloading freight for 180 days after calling on a Cuban port for trade purposes.
  • BIS will generally authorize air cargo to transit Cuba.  The amended regulations allow cargo aboard aircraft bound for destinations other than Cuba to transit Cuba under a license exception.
  • BIS will authorize exports of certain consumer goods that are sold online or through other means directly to eligible individuals in Cuba for their personal use.
  • Americans will be allowed to provide civil aviation safety-related services to Cuba and Cuban nationals.

The Treasury regulations 31 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), part 515, are available by clicking here. The Commerce regulations 15 CFR parts 730-774, are available by clicking here.

Jose A. Aquino (@JoseAquinoEsq on Twitter) is a special counsel in the New York office of Duane Morris LLP, and a member of the Duane Morris Cuba Business Group. This blog is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual attorneys.

Americans May Now Legally Smoke Cuban Cigars, But Only Outside the U.S.

The Obama administration has decriminalized smoking Cuban cigars while traveling abroad. Americans can now enjoy their favorite cigars while sunning on a beach in the Bahamas or relaxing in the Tuscan countryside without fear of criminal prosecution. Consumption of Cuban rum outside the U.S. has also been decriminalized.

While most Americans are aware that bringing Cuban cigars or rum into the country was a big no-no, not many of us knew that we were in violation of the U.S. embargo while buying them in other countries for local consumption. Under 2004 regulations, the U.S. embargo against Cuba was extended to purchases made in other countries. Thus, we faced criminal and civil penalties for smoking cigars or drinking rum made in Cuba while wandering overseas.

As of March 16, 2016, however, Americans can enjoy their favorite Cuban cigars and rum just about anywhere in the word, except within the United States. The Department of Treasury announced: “Effective March 16, 2016, persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction may purchase or acquire Cuban-origin merchandise, including alcohol and tobacco products, while in a third country provided such products are consumed while in a third country.”

Americans can also travel to Cuba and bring back their favorite rum and cigars. The recent loosening of regulations allow Americans visiting Cuba for permissible purposes to purchase alcohol and tobacco products for personal use while in Cuba, and may return to the United States with up to $100 worth of alcohol or tobacco products bought in Cuba.

Jose A. Aquino (@JoseAquinoEsq on Twitter) is a special counsel in the New York office of Duane Morris LLP, and a member of the Duane Morris Cuba Business Group. This blog is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual attorneys.

U.S. Relaxes Cuba Sanctions Ahead of President Obama’s Historic Trip to Havana

Days before President Obama makes a historic trip to Havana, the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Commerce announced a further loosening of restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba. The changes make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba and facilitate the use of U.S. dollars in Cuban financial transactions.

Americans can now take “people-to-people” trips to Cuba on their own instead of through group tours. The new measures allow Americans to legally travel to Cuba by simply filling out a form asserting that the purpose of their travel is for educational purposes. The expanded allowable travel together with direct commercial fights that are to begin later this year will greatly increase the number of Americans visiting the island. The Obama administration hopes that the increased flow of visitors with U.S. dollars will be the catalyst that leads to the opening of the Cuban economy.

The Obama administration also loosened rules on the Cuban government’s use of the U.S. dollar. The new rules allow U.S. banks to process Cuban transactions that pass through the U.S. banking system. Cuban nationals in the United States will now be able to earn a salary or other recompense and be permitted to open accounts in American banks.

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew, said in a statement: “Today’s steps build on the actions of the last 15 months as we continue to break down economic barriers, empower the Cuban people and advance their financial freedoms, and chart a new course in U.S.-Cuba relations.” Secretary Lew added: “Today we are building on this progress by facilitating travel for additional Americans looking to engage with Cubans; allowing Cuban citizens to earn a salary in the United States; and expanding access to the U.S. financial system, as well as trade and commercial opportunities.”

The move was also praised by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker: “Today’s amendments build upon President Obama’s historic actions to improve our country’s relationship with Cuba and its people. These steps not only expand opportunities for economic engagement between the Cuban people and the American business community, but will also improve the lives of millions of Cuba’s citizens.”

The Department of Commerce summarized the regulations as follows:

“Travel and Related Transactions–

  • People-to-people educational travel. Individuals will be authorized to travel to Cuba for individual people-to-people educational travel, provided that the traveler engages in a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities and that will result in a meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba. Previously, the general license authorizing educational travel required such trips to take place under the auspices of an organization that was subject to U.S. jurisdiction and required all travelers to be accompanied by a representative of the sponsoring organization. This change is intended to make authorized educational travel to Cuba more accessible and less expensive for U.S. citizens, and will increase opportunities for direct engagement between Cubans and Americans. Persons relying upon this authorization must retain records related to the authorized travel transactions, including records demonstrating a full-time schedule of authorized activities. In the case of an individual traveling under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction and that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact, the individual may rely on the entity sponsoring the travel to satisfy those recordkeeping requirements.
  • Payment of salaries. Cuban nationals in the United States in a non-immigrant status or pursuant to other non-immigrant travel authorization will be authorized to earn a salary or compensation, consistent with the terms of the particular visa, provided that the recipient is not subject to any special tax assessments in Cuba. U.S. companies will be authorized to engage in transactions related to the sponsorship or hiring of Cuban nationals to work or perform in the United States similar to nationals from other countries, provided that no additional payments are made to the Cuban government in connection with such sponsorship or hiring. For example, Cuban athletes, artists, performers, and others who obtain the requisite visas will be able to travel to the United States and earn salaries and stipends in excess of basic living expenses. Transactions in connection with the filing of an application for non-immigrant travel authorizations will also be authorized.
  • Cuban-origin merchandise. OFAC will authorize certain dealings in Cuban-origin merchandise by individuals for personal consumption while in a third-country, and to receive or obtain services from Cuba or a Cuban national that are ordinarily incident to travel and maintenance within a third country. This authorization will allow, for example, Americans traveling in Europe to purchase and consume Cuban-origin alcohol and tobacco products while abroad similar to the travel exemptions in other sanctions programs.

Banking and financial services –

  • U-turn payments through the U.S. financial system. U.S. banking institutions will be authorized to process U-turn transactions in which Cuba or a Cuban national has an interest. This provision will authorize funds transfers from a bank outside the United States that pass through one or more U.S. financial institutions before being transferred to a bank outside the United States, where neither the originator nor the beneficiary is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
  • Processing of U.S. dollar monetary instruments. U.S. banking institutions will be authorized to process U.S. dollar monetary instruments, including cash and travelers’ checks, presented indirectly by Cuban financial institutions. Correspondent accounts at third-country financial institutions used for such transactions may be denominated in U.S. dollars.
  • U.S. bank accounts for Cuban nationals. U.S. banking institutions will be authorized to open and maintain bank accounts in the United States for Cuban nationals in Cuba to receive payments in the United States for authorized or exempt transactions and to remit such payments back to Cuba.

Trade and commerce

  • Physical and business presence. OFAC will expand the existing authorization for “physical presence” (such as an office, retail outlet, or warehouse) to include entities that engage in authorized humanitarian projects, entities that engage in authorized non-commercial activities intended to provide support for the Cuban people, and private foundations or research or educational institutes engaging in certain authorized activities pursuant to sections 515.575, 515.574, and 515.576 of the CACR, respectively. OFAC will also expand the existing authorization for “business presence” (such as a joint venture) to include exporters of goods that are authorized for export or re-export to Cuba or that are exempt, entities providing mail or parcel transmission services or cargo transportation services, and providers of carrier and travel services to facilitate authorized transactions. The revised regulations will also clarify that the physical and business presence authorizations permit exporters and re-exporters of authorized or exempt goods to assemble such goods in Cuba. BIS will make conforming changes to the EAR to generally authorize exports and re-exports of eligible items to establish and maintain a physical or business presence that is authorized by OFAC.
  • Importation of software. The CACR currently authorizes the importation of Cuban-origin mobile applications. OFAC will expand this authorization to allow the importation of Cuban-origin software.
  • Shipping. BIS will generally authorize vessels to transport authorized cargo from the United States to Cuba and then sail to other countries with any remaining cargo that was onloaded in the United States.
  • Cuban private sector. BIS will adopt a licensing policy of case-by-case review for exports and re-exports of items that would enable or facilitate exports from Cuba of items produced by the Cuban private sector.

Grants and awards –

  • OFAC will authorize the provision of educational grants and awards, and clarify that an existing authorization applies to the provision of grants and awards for the humanitarian projects authorized in OFAC’s regulations. This step will further enable U.S. support for educational projects in Cuba and U.S. participation in philanthropic efforts.”

The Department of Treasury regulations, 31 CFR 515, are available here. The Department of Commerce regulations, 15 CFR 730-774, are available here.

For additional background, please refer to a recent Duane Morris alert “OFAC and BIS Publish Comprehensive Modifications Related to U.S. Policy Toward Cuba,” written by Duane Morris special counsel Brian Goldstein.

Jose A. Aquino (@JoseAquinoEsq on Twitter) is a special counsel in the New York office of Duane Morris LLP, and a member of the Duane Morris Cuba Business Group. This blog is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual attorneys.

U.S. ANNOUNCES NEW AMENDMENTS TO THE CUBA SANCTIONS REGULATIONS

Today, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) and the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced new amendments to the Cuba Sanctions Regulations. The amendments further advance President Obama’s policy of easing of sanctions on Cuba. The changes will take effect on January 27, 2016, when the regulations are published in the Federal Register.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said: “Today’s amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations build on successive actions over the last year and send a clear message to the world: the United States is committed to empowering and enabling economic advancements for the Cuban people. We have been working to enable the free flow of information between Cubans and Americans and will continue to take the steps necessary to help the Cuban people achieve the political and economic freedom that they deserve.”

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said: “Following the first ever U.S.-Cuba Regulatory Dialogue and my fact-finding trip to Cuba in October, we have been working tirelessly to maximize the beneficial impact of U.S. regulatory changes on the Cuban people. Today’s Commerce rule builds on previous changes by authorizing additional exports including for such purposes as disaster preparedness; education; agricultural production; artistic endeavors; food processing; and public transportation. These regulatory changes will also facilitate exports that will help strengthen civil society in Cuba and enhance communications to, from and among the Cuban people. Looking ahead, we will continue to support greater economic independence and increased prosperity for the Cuban people, as we take another step toward building a more open and mutually beneficial relationship between our two nations.”

The Department of Commerce summarized the new amendments as follows:

Financing

Removing financing restrictions for most types of authorized exports.

  • Restrictions on payment and financing terms for authorized exports and reexports, except for agricultural commodities and agricultural items, will be removed, and U.S. depository institutions will be authorized to provide financing, including, for example, issuing a letter of credit for such exports and reexports. Currently, payment and financing terms for all authorized exports are restricted to cash-in-advance or third-country financing. Effective January 27, 2016, examples of permissible payment and financing terms for authorized non-agricultural exports and reexports will include: payment of cash in advance; sales on an open account; and financing by third-country financial institutions or U.S. financial institutions. OFAC is required by statute to maintain the existing limitations on payment and financing terms for the export and reexport of agricultural commodities and agricultural items.

Exports

Additional amendments to increase support for the Cuban people and facilitate authorized exports.

  • Certain Additional Transactions Authorized. OFAC is expanding an existing general license to authorize certain additional travel-related transactionsas are directly incident to the conduct of market research; commercial marketing; sales or contract negotiation; accompanied delivery; installation; leasing; or servicing in Cuba of items consistent with the export or reexport licensing policy of the Department of Commerce, provided that the traveler’s schedule of activities does not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule.
  • Civil society. BIS will generally approve license applications for exports and reexports of commodities and software to human rights organizations or to individuals and non-governmental organizations that promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba.
  • News gathering. BIS will generally approve license applications for exports and reexports of commodities and software to U.S. news bureaus in Cuba whose primary purpose is the gathering and dissemination of news to the general public.
  • Telecommunications. BIS will generally approve license applications for exports and reexports of telecommunications items that would improve communications to, from, and among the Cuban people.
  • Agriculture. BIS will generally approve license applications for exports and reexports of certain agricultural items (such as agricultural commodities not eligible for a license exception; insecticides; pesticides; and herbicides).
  • Civil aviation safety. BIS will generally approve license applications for exports and reexports of items necessary to ensure the safety of civil aviation and the safe operation of commercial aircraft engaged in international air transportation, including the export or reexport of such aircraft leased to state-owned enterprises.
  • Meeting the needs of the Cuban people. BIS is creating a case-by-case licensing policy that will apply to exports and reexports of items to meet the needs of the Cuban people, including exports and reexports for such purposes made to state-owned enterprises and agencies and organizations of the Cuban government that provide goods and services to the Cuban people.
  • Examples of exports and reexports eligible for this licensing policy are items for: agricultural production; artistic endeavors (including the creation of public content, historic and cultural works and preservation); education; food processing; disaster preparedness, relief and response; public health and sanitation; residential construction and renovation; public transportation; and the construction of infrastructure that directly benefits the Cuban people (e.g., facilities for treating public water supplies and supplying energy to the general public).
  • A general policy of denial will still apply to exports and reexports of items for use by state-owned enterprises, agencies, or other organizations of the Cuban government that primarily generate revenue for the state, including those in the tourism industry and those engaged in the extraction or production of minerals or other raw materials. Additionally, applications to export or reexport items destined to the Cuban military, police, intelligence and security services remain subject to a general policy of denial.

Air Carrier Services

Additional amendment to facilitate carrier service by air and with Cuban airlines.

  • The 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, will be authorized.

Travel

Expanding authorizations within existing travel categories to facilitate travel to Cuba for additional purposes.

  • Temporary Sojourn. Certain personnel who are operating or servicing vessels or aircraft will be authorized to engage in travel-related and other transactions in Cuba to facilitate the temporary sojourn of aircraft and vessels as authorized by the Department of Commerce in connection with the transportation of authorized travelers between the United States and Cuba.
  • Information and informational materials. OFAC will authorize travel-related and other transactions directly incident to professional media or artistic productions of information or informational materials for exportation, importation, or transmission, including the filming or production of media programs (such as movies and television programs); music recordings; and the creation of artworks in Cuba by persons that are regularly employed in or have demonstrated professional experience in a field relevant to such professional media or artistic productions. OFAC will also be expanding an existing general license to authorize transactions relating to the creation, dissemination, or artistic or other substantive alteration or enhancement of informational materials, including employment of Cuban nationals and the remittance of royalties or other payments.
  • Professional meetings. OFAC will authorize by general license travel-related and other transactions to organize professional meetings or conferences in Cuba. The existing general license authorizes only attendance at such meetings or conferences.
  • Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic, and other competitions and exhibitions. Similar to the change to the professional meetings category, OFAC will authorize by general license travel-related and other transactions to organize amateur and semi-professional international sports federation competitions and public performances, clinics, workshops, other athletic or non-athletic competitions, and exhibitions in Cuba. OFAC also will remove requirements that that U.S. profits from certain events must be donated to certain organizations and that certain events be run at least in part by U.S. travelers.
  • Humanitarian projects. OFAC will expand the list of authorized humanitarian projects to include disaster preparedness and response.

The Treasury regulations, which can be found at 31 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), part 515, can be seen here.

The Commerce regulations, which can be found at 15 CFR part 746, can be seen here.

Jose A. Aquino (@JoseAquinoEsq on Twitter) is a special counsel in the New York office of Duane Morris LLP, and a member of the Duane Morris Cuba Business Group. This blog is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual attorneys.

U.S. AND CUBA TO RESUME REGULARLY SCHEDULED AIRLINE FLIGHTS

On December 17, the United States and Cuba announced their agreement to restore regularly scheduled commercial airline service between the two countries for the first time in more than a half-century. The new arrangement will continue to allow charter operations which currently operate from several U.S. cities.

According to Thomas Engle, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Affairs at the U.S. State Department, the agreement allows 110 round-trip flights per day on U.S. carriers to Cuba, including 20 daily flights to Havana. The remaining 90 flights will be allocated throughout nine other international airports in Cuba. It is not yet clear when the regular flights will begin.

Several U.S. airlines, including American, Delta, JetBlue and United announced plans to request approval to begin scheduling regular flights to Cuba. Airlines will have to apply for permission from U.S. regulators and submit specific routes between the two countries. Miami is expected to be the major hub for flights to Cuba. Direct flights are also expected from New York and Tampa.

The agreement supports the Obama Administration’s policy of promoting human rights and political freedom on the island nation through people-to-people contacts. “We continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but we raise those issues directly, and we will always stand for human rights and the universal values that we support around the globe,” President Obama said in a written statement.

Similarly, the State Department reinforced the President’s policy in its statement announcing the agreement: “While U.S. law continues to prohibit travel to Cuba for tourist activities, a stronger civil aviation relationship will facilitate growth in authorized travel between our two countries- a critical component of the President’s policy toward Cuba.”

The U.S. trade embargo continues to prohibit travel to Cuba for general tourist activities. U.S. travelers still must meet at least one of 12 permitted criteria to visit the island.

Jose A. Aquino (@JoseAquinoEsq on Twitter) is a special counsel in the New York office of Duane Morris LLP, and a member of the Duane Morris Cuba Business Group. This blog is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual attorneys.

Exporting Agricultural Goods to Cuba: Who do I sell to?

The newly relaxed U.S. regulatory controls for the export of goods to Cuba have been scrutinized by the media. Not much, however, has been said about Cuba’s framework for importing goods. Understanding the Cuban government’s regulatory framework is a first step for U.S. companies looking to do business in Cuba.

Generally, U.S. firms will not deal directly with the end user of the exported product. For example, exporting agricultural products is not about trading with independent farmers or businesses in the island but, instead, about negotiating and dealing with the Cuban government through the government-run food trading company known as the Empresa Comercializadora de Alimentos (ALIMPORT).

ALIMPORT is the Cuban government’s procurement agency for U.S. agricultural products. It is the only approved importer for U.S. food products such as wheat, fruits, vegetables and meat. U.S. firms must negotiate with, and deliver goods to, ALIMPORT, who then takes control of the imports at the Cuban point of entry, manages distribution throughout Cuba and coordinates payments. The United States Department of Agriculture’s report on Cuba notes that “the key difference in exporting to Cuba, compared to other countries in the region, is that all U.S. agricultural exports must be channeled through one Cuban government agency, ALIMPORT.”

Jose A. Aquino (@JoseAquinoEsq on Twitter) is a special counsel in the New York office of Duane Morris LLP, and a member of the Duane Morris Cuba Business Group. This blog is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual attorneys.

BILL TO EXPAND AGRICULTURAL TRADE WITH CUBA INTRODUCED IN HOUSE

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., introduced legislation aimed at making it easier to export American agricultural goods to Cuba. The bill, H.R. 3687 or the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, would repeal a law that prohibits financing the sales of U.S. agricultural products to Cuba and would give producers access to Department of Agriculture marketing programs that help the U.S. compete in foreign markets.

Currently, Cubans who want to buy U.S. agricultural products have to pay cash upfront. American farmers blame the upfront payment requirement for the lack of trade with Cuba. The farmers claim that without credit they cannot compete with countries like Vietnam and Brazil, who can extend credit to Cuba.

The bill also allows investments in Cuban agricultural businesses not affiliated with the Cuban government. All of Cuba’s agricultural imports from the United States are controlled by the state-owned entity Alimport, which purchases products for Cubans. Crawford’s bill upholds the cash-upfront requirement for goods sold to Alimport or any other entity controlled by the Cuban government. The bill, however, would allow limited investment, if U.S. officials certify that the entities are privately owned and not controlled by the Cuban government. “We’re trying to work outside of the realm of Alimport because that is a regime-controlled entity. What we want to do is facilitate private-sector investment and be able to access that market,” Crawford said.

Representative Crawford further stated:

“While the Administration has called on Congress to repeal the embargo entirely, I think the correct approach is to make cautious and incremental changes to current Cuba policies in ways that benefit the United States. The Cuba Agricultural Exports Act would allow our producers to compete on a level playing field in the Cuban market, a significant opportunity for American farmers and ranchers. Not only is it estimated that Cuba imports around 80 percent of its food supply, but the US also enjoys an inherent advantage due to our close geographic proximity and state of the art production and food distribution infrastructure. I believe that agriculture trading partnerships with Cuba will help build a foundation of goodwill and cooperation that will open the door to long-sought reforms in the same the way that American influence has brought reform to other communist states.”

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, who cosponsored the bill said:

“Many in the agricultural industry have expressed a strong interest in increasing exports to Cuba due to the nation’s potential growth as a market for U.S. agricultural products. I appreciate Rick Crawford’s leadership on this bill—especially his efforts at reaching consensus with various stakeholders on this important issue.”

A copy of the bill can be found by clicking here.

Jose A. Aquino (@JoseAquinoEsq on Twitter) is a special counsel in the New York office of Duane Morris LLP, and a member of the Duane Morris Cuba Business Group. This blog is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual attorneys.

OBAMA EASES TRAVEL AND TRADE RESTRICTIONS WITH CUBA

The Obama administration announced wide-ranging changes to loosen travel, commerce and investment restrictions on Cuba. The new rules allow American companies to open locations and hire workers in Cuba. U.S. companies will be allowed to establish subsidiaries or joint ventures as well as open offices, stores and warehouses in Cuba. Additionally, the new rules will expand telecommunications services, facilitate financial transactions between the two countries, remove limits on the amount of money that can be brought to Cuba, and allow “certain persons” to open and maintain bank accounts in Cuba.

The changes will take effect when the regulations are published in the Federal Register on Monday, September 21, 2015, on the eve of Pope Francis’ visit to Washington. The Pope, who is scheduled to visit Cuba Sept. 19-22, has been a central figure in establishing the reconciliation between the United States and the island nation.

Jacob J. Lew, the Treasury secretary, said “Today’s announcement underscores the Administration’s commitment to promote constructive change for the Cuban people. These regulatory changes build on the revisions implemented earlier this year and will further ease sanctions related to travel, telecommunications and internet-based services, business operations in Cuba, and remittances,”

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said, “The regulations published today are designed to support the emerging Cuban private sector and bring us one step closer to achieving President Obama’s historic policy goals. These actions build upon previous Commerce regulatory changes, and will ease travel restrictions, enhance the safety of Americans visiting the country, and promote more business opportunities between U.S. and Cuban companies. In addition to expanding our commercial engagement with the Cuban people, these additional adjustments have the potential to stimulate long overdue economic reform across the country.”

The revisions will be administered by Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS). To see the Treasury regulations, which can be found at 31 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), part 515, click here. To see the Commerce regulations, which can be found at 15 CFR parts 740, 746, and 772, click here.

The Department of Treasury summarized the revised regulations as follows:

Travel –

Facilitating authorized travel and commerce, increasing contact between Americans and Cubans, and supporting civil society in Cuba:

  • ​Transportation by vessel of authorized travelers – between the United States and Cuba only and without stops in third countries – will be authorized by general license. Certain related lodging services aboard vessels used for such travel will also be authorized.
  • License Exception Aircraft, Vessels, and Spacecraft (AVS) will authorize temporary sojourns to Cuba of certain categories of vessels. Eligible categories of vessels are cargo vessels for hire for use in the transportation of items; passenger vessels for hire for use in the transportation of passengers and/or items; and recreational vessels that are used in connection with travel authorized by the Treasury.
  • License Exception AVS will authorize aircraft on temporary sojourn to remain in Cuba for up to 7 consecutive days and authorizes vessels on temporary sojourn to remain in Cuba for up to 14 consecutive days.
  • Close relatives will be allowed to visit or accompany authorized travelers for certain additional activities. In the January changes, OFAC permitted close relatives to join visits related to official government business and certain educational activities, and to visit additional family members residing in Cuba. Close relatives now also will be allowed to visit or accompany authorized travelers for additional educational activities, journalistic activity, professional research, and religious activities, as well as activities related to humanitarian projects and activities of private foundations or certain research or educational institutes. For purposes of this provision, a close relative is defined as someone related to a person by blood, marriage, or adoption – and who is no more than three generations removed from that person or a common ancestor with that person.
  • All authorized travelers will be allowed to open and maintain bank accounts in Cuba in order to access funds for authorized transactions while in Cuba.

Telecommunications & Internet-Based Services –

Enhancing the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba, and better providing efficient and adequate telecommunications services between the United States and Cuba:

  • ​Persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction will be allowed to establish a business presence in Cuba, including through joint ventures with Cuban entities, to provide certain telecommunications and internet-based services, as well as to enter into licensing agreements related to, and to market, such services.
  • Persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction will be allowed to import Cuban-origin mobile applications into the United States and to hire Cuban nationals to develop them.
  • An existing authorization for the provision of services related to certain consumer communications devices exported to Cuba will be expanded to authorize services related to additional types of items authorized by Commerce, and to add training related to the installation, repair, or replacement of those items.
  • License Exception Consumer Communications Devices (CCD) will no longer be limited to sales or donations. This change to License Exception CCD is intended to support other types of transactions, such as leases and loans of eligible items for use by eligible end-users.

Commercial and Financial Transactions –

Refocusing sanctions so they do not prevent day-to-day transactions by Cuban individuals who are outside of Cuba:

  • ​All persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction will be allowed to provide goods and services to individual Cuban nationals located outside of Cuba, provided there is no commercial exportation of goods or services to or from Cuba.
  • Banking institutions will be able to open and maintain accounts for Cuban individuals for use while the Cuban national is located outside of Cuba, and to close such accounts.

Physical Presence and Operations in Cuba –

Facilitating certain authorized activities involving Cuba:

  • Persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction engaging in the following categories of authorized activities will be allowed to establish and maintain a physical presence, such as an office, retail outlet, or warehouse, in Cuba: news bureaus; exporters of certain goods authorized for export or reexport to Cuba by Commerce and OFAC, such as agricultural products and materials for construction or renovation of privately-owned buildings; entities providing mail or parcel transmission services or certain cargo transportation services; providers of telecommunications or internet-based services; entities organizing or conducting educational activities; religious organizations; and providers of carrier and certain travel services. These individuals and entities will also be authorized to employ Cuban nationals, open and maintain bank accounts in Cuba, and employ persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction in Cuba.

Support for the Cuban People –

Improving living conditions, strengthening civil society, and supporting independent economic activity by the Cuban people:

  • ​License Exception Support for the Cuban People (SCP) will authorize certain exports and reexports of items to Cuba for use in establishing, maintaining, and operating a physical presence in Cuba. Eligible end-users of the items include certain persons providing telecommunications or internet-based services; establishing telecommunications facilities; providing travel or carrier services; organizing or conducting educational activities; or transporting authorized items between the United States and Cuba.
  • License Exception SCP will no longer be limited to sales or donations. This change to License Exception SCP is intended to support other types of transactions, such as leases and loans of eligible items for use by eligible end-users.
  • Certain temporary reexports from a foreign country to Cuba will be authorized by License Exception SCP when the items are for use in scientific, archeological, cultural, ecological, educational, historic preservation, sporting activities, or in the traveler’s professional research and meetings. Previously, this provision was limited to temporary exports by persons departing the United States.
  • Certain commodities and software for use in software development may be exported or reexported to eligible end-users in Cuba pursuant to License Exception SCP.
  • License Exception SCP will authorize temporary exports and reexports to Cuba of additional categories of items, including certain tools of trade to install, service, or repair items; and certain commodities and software for exhibition or demonstration.

Remittances –

Empowering Cubans with opportunities for self-employment, and in turn strengthening independent civil society:

  • ​The limits on donative remittances to Cuban nationals other than prohibited Cuban Government or Cuban Communist Party officials, currently set at $2,000 per quarter, will be removed entirely. The limits on authorized remittances that individuals may carry to Cuba, previously $10,000 for persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction and $3,000 for Cuban nationals, will also be removed entirely.
  • The unblocking and return of remittances that were previously blocked because they exceeded the then-applicable caps on periodic remittances, and of certain previously blocked funds transfers, will be allowed.
  • Depository institutions will be allowed to maintain accounts for certain Cuban nationals present in the United States in a non-immigrant status, and will no longer be required to block such accounts if not closed before the Cuban national’s departure. Access to such accounts will be limited to while the Cuban national is lawfully present in the United States, although the account may remain open while the Cuban national is not in the United States. The $250 monthly limit on payments from previously blocked accounts held in the name of such Cuban nationals will be removed to more adequately allow access to funds for living expenses.
  • Remittances from Cuba and from Cuban nationals in third countries to the United States will be authorized by general license, and financial institutions will be allowed to provide related services.
  • An expanded general license also will authorize additional remittances to Cuban nationals in connection with the administration of estates. This provision complements another general license authorizing all transactions incident to the administration and distribution of the assets of estates in which a Cuban national has an interest.

Legal Services –

Updating the legal services provisions:

  • OFAC’s existing general license authorizing the provision of certain legal services to Cuba and Cuban nationals will be expanded to allow the receipt of payment for such services. Certain limitations will apply, related to payments from prohibited Cuban Government or Cuban Communist Party officials. Additionally, a new general license will authorize persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to receive, and make payment for, certain legal services from Cuba or Cuban nationals.

Civil Aviation Safety –

Supporting international aviation and passenger safety:

  • A case-by-case review policy will apply to license applications for exports and reexports to Cuba of items to help ensure the safety of civil aviation and the safe operation of commercial passenger aircraft. Items that are to be reviewed pursuant to this policy include aircraft parts and components; software and technology related to safety of flight; air traffic control, aviation communications, and aviation weather related equipment; airport safety equipment; and devices used for security screening of passengers and baggage.

Gift Imports –

Allowing certain gifts:

  • Imports of merchandise from Cuba or Cuban-origin merchandise from a third country intended as gifts, excluding alcohol and tobacco products, will be allowed to be sent to the United States provided that the merchandise is not carried by a traveler, the value of the merchandise is not more than $100, and the item is a type and in quantities normally given as a gift.

Educational Activities –

Increasing contact between American and Cubans and enhancing the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people:

  • ​Under an expanded general license, additional educational activities involving Cuba and Cuban nationals, including the provision of standardized testing services and internet-based courses, will be authorized.
  • Academic exchanges and joint non-commercial academic research with universities or academic institutions in Cuba will also be authorized.
  • Travel-related transactions in connection with these activities will also be authorized.

Ordinarily Incident Transactions –

Clarifying the scope of authorized transactions:

  • OFAC is clarifying that the Cuba sanctions provisions that are already in place allow most transactions that are ordinarily incident and necessary to give effect to a licensed transaction. For example, certain payments made using online payment platforms are permitted for authorized transactions.

Air Ambulances and Emergency Medical Services –

Facilitating access to emergency medical services:

  • The provision of air ambulance and other related emergency medical services to travelers in Cuba will be authorized by general license, and a general license will clarify that the provision of nonscheduled emergency medical services to Cuban nationals in the United States is authorized.

Humanitarian Projects –

Facilitating aid to the Cuban people in times of need and preserving Cuban history:

  • The general license authorizing transactions related to specified humanitarian projects will be expanded to include disaster relief and historical preservation.

Supporting Diplomatic Relations –

Supporting the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba in accordance with the President’s announcement:

  • ​OFAC is expanding the general license authorizing transactions with official missions of Cuba to the United States to include international funds transfers.

Jose A. Aquino (@JoseAquinoEsq on Twitter) is a special counsel in the New York office of Duane Morris LLP, and a member of the Duane Morris Cuba Business Group. This blog is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual attorneys.

U.S. and Cuba To Announce Embassy Openings

President Barack Obama is expected to announce this morning that the United States and Cuba have reached an agreement to re-establish formal diplomatic relations and reopen embassies in each other’s capitals. President Obama proclaimed in December that he wanted to resume full diplomatic relations with Cuba and, after six months of negotiations, the two countries have worked out details of the new embassies. For the first time in over fifty years the Cuban flag will fly over its embassy in Washington and the U.S. flag will likewise hover over Havana.

The former U.S. embassy in Havana, now known as the U.S. Interests Section, will be reconverted into a fully operating embassy. The seven-story U.S. Embassy building on the Havana waterfront was constructed in 1953. The U.S. closed its embassy when then President Dwight D. Eisenhower broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba in January 1961. The former embassy building opened as the U.S. Interests Section in 1977 under President Jimmy Carter when he tried to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba. The State Department estimates that it needs $6.6 million to renovate the building to make it an operating embassy.

Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to travel to Cuba in July to oversee the embassy’s reopening. President Obama is also expected to travel to Cuba before leaving office in January 2017.

However, before it can reopen, the State Department must notify Congress of its intent to reopen the embassy in Havana. Congress then has 15 days to review the notification before the U.S. can open the embassy. Although certain factions in both houses of Congress continue to oppose widening ties with Cuba, there is unlikely to be a serious challenge to the reopening of the U.S. embassy in Havana.

Jose A. Aquino (@JoseAquinoEsq on Twitter) is a special counsel in the New York office of Duane Morris LLP, and a member of the Duane Morris Cuba Business Group. This blog is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual attorneys.