US-Cuba ties: Rules eased on cigars and rum

US-Cuba ties: Rules eased on cigars and rum

American travellers to Cuba will now be able to bring back far more rum and cigars, after the Obama administration announced new trade measures.

The previous $100 (£82) limit has been lifted, meaning most visitors could bring home up to 100 cigars and several bottles of rum.

The latest measures reflect continuing moves by the former Cold War rivals to normalise relations after 53 years.

President Barack Obama paid a historic visit to Cuba in March.

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The latest raft of measures are in an administrative order by the president, meaning he can sidestep the Republican-controlled Congress.

Analysts say he wants to cement the new trade relations before he leaves office in January.

Other measures in the latest batch include:

  • lifting limits on cargo ship travel between the nations
  • easing rules on joint medical research
  • allowing export to Cuba of some US goods sold online
  • allowing US firms to improve some Cuban infrastructure
  • allowing Cuban pharmaceutical firms to apply for US approval

But the cigar and rum measures will be the most beneficial for Cuba. Given the high value of some cigars in particular, the Cuban government could benefit to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Analysis: Will Grant, BBC Cuba correspondent

The most important announcement is probably the move to lift a restriction on cargo ship travel between the old enemies that had prevented them from docking in US ports for at least 180 days after visiting Cuba.

But undoubtedly the most eye-catching was the decision to lift the $100 limit on rum and cigars. The fact that the record numbers of US visitors to Cuba can now buy much more is welcome news for the Castro government.

That said, it will still reiterate its calls for the US economic embargo to be lifted entirely. The Cuban delegation plans to put a resolution in front of the UN General Assembly by the end of the month, which is likely to be resoundingly supported.

President Obama cannot lift the embargo without the US Congress, but he can weaken it significantly. He has done that on several occasions over the past two years.

Mr Obama said in a statement: “Challenges remain – and very real differences between our governments persist on issues of democracy and human rights – but I believe that engagement is the best way to address those differences and make progress on behalf of our interests and values.”

More than 160,000 Americans went to Cuba in 2015 and the figure could double this year.

In July, Cuba and the United States formally re-established relations.

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