Last month President Obama announced the U.S. and Cuba would work toward restoring diplomatic relations. While a lifting of the trade embargo will require action by Congress this week the federal government announced a number of rules changes related to travel and trade with Cuba.
The most significant rules changes come from the Treasury Department (pdf). U.S. travel agents and airlines, for example, will be allowed to "provide authorized travel and carrier services" to Cuba without a specific license from the Office of Foreign Asset Control, while the definition of authorized travel is expanded to include individual educational, journalistic, religious, professional, and humanitarian activities, all without requiring specific licensing. "General tourism" remains prohibited because it's banned by law. Some of the barriers to American banking and telecommunications services in Cuba have been lifted as well, and the limit on remittances to Cuba has quadrupled.
The Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security, meanwhile, announced new regulations connected to export policies. According to a statement from the Commerce secretary, the "regulations will change export policy and authorize the flow of certain goods and services to Cuba without a license, to spur private sector activity and encourage entrepreneurship in Cuba." A statement from the Treasury secretary added that the new rules should "promote political and economic freedom for the Cuban people." Both the Commerce and Treasury secretaries characterized U.S. policies toward Cuba as outdated. The U.S. Congress is not expected to lift any of the statutory restrictions on trade with and travel to Cuba this year.