WASHINGTON/HAVANA The United States approved a wider range of commerce with Cuba on Tuesday, making it easier for U.S. companies to film movies, finance exports and do business with the Communist government on public infrastructure projects.
The latest changes come as Washington and Havana move closer toward normal relations, having restored diplomatic relations last year after more than five decades of Cold War-era animosity.
Although most U.S. trade with Cuba remains banned under the economic embargo, President Barack Obama has been using executive authority to allow commerce that is not specifically banned by Congress.
The changes announced on Tuesday, the third round of such measures, reflect Washington's stated goal of meeting the needs of the Cuban people while also creating business opportunities for U.S. companies.
U.S. officials stressed that the practical impact will depend on Cuban economic liberalization, as previous U.S. attempts at promoting commerce have largely stalled. Cuba in turn has complained about the lack of credits and a ban on using the U.S. dollar.
U.S. banks may now finance authorized exports except for agricultural commodities and reexports of non-U.S. goods. Previously such trade had to be paid for by cash in advance or financed through third-country banks.
The new rules would also allow U.S. companies on a case-by-case basis to be involved in the construction of infrastructure deemed as directly beneficial to the Cuban people.
A Treasury Department statement mentions water treatment and supplying energy as examples. Cuba has a host of infrastructure needs following decades of U.S. sanctions and the fall of the Soviet Union, its longtime former benefactor.
"They are basically saying we are opening the door to allow for approval if you want to sell to a state-owned enterprise," said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a Washington-based group promoting trade with Cuba.
However, a general policy of denying licenses will apply to exports for use by state-owned entities that primarily generate revenues for the Cuban government and for use by the Cuban military, police, intelligence and security services.
The new regulations also grant freer rein for U.S. companies to shoot movies and television programs.
Late-night comedian Conan O'Brien and the Showtime series "House of Lies" have shot in Havana recently, and the next installment of the "Fast and Furious" films also plans scenes in Cuba.
"I think you’re going to be bombarded with movie crews in Cuba now that they are all approved on a general license," Williams said.
(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, W Simon and Frances Kerry)