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Web Alert: US further amends Cuban Asset Control Regulations

05 October 2015

On 17 December 2014, President Obama announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, which were severed in January 1961.

In order to implement this policy, in January 2015 the US Treasury Department of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) amended the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR). These amendments included expanding permitted imports and exports between the USA and Cuba, increasing categories of travel licences and facilitating money transfers to Cuba and money transactions between the two countries.

However, the US trade embargo against Cuba remains in place and most transactions between US persons and Cuba continue to be prohibited.

On 18 September 2015, the US Treasury Department and the Department of Commerce announced additional revisions to the CACR to take effect from 21 September 2015. These regulatory changes will further ease sanctions relating to travel, telecommunications and internet-based services, business operations in Cuba, and financial transations. More details can be found at 31 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), part 515 and 15 CFR parts 740, 746, and 772.

The US Treasury Department and the Department of State has also issued updated Guidance and FAQS. Links to this and a helpful client alert produced by Freehill Hogan & Mahar LLP can be found on the right of this page.

However, as highlighted in the OFAC FAQs, the current easing of certain US sanctions does not have an immediate and significant effect on the US trade embargo against Cuba. That embargo remains in place and US persons are still generally prohibited from transacting business with Cuba.  Most importantly for the shipping community, these recent amendments do not affect the '180 day rule' which provides as follows:

Except as specifically authorized by the Secretary of the Treasury (or any person, agency or instrumentality designated by him), by means of regulations, rulings, instructions, licenses or otherwise,
(a)   No vessel that enters a port or place in Cuba to engage in the trade of goods or the purchase or provision of services, may enter a U.S. port for the purpose of loading or unloading freight for a period of 180 days from the date the vessel departed from a port or place in Cuba; and
(b) No vessel carrying goods or passengers to or from Cuba or carrying goods in which Cuba or a Cuban national has an interest may enter a U.S. port with such goods or passengers on board.

Since the general trade embargo remains in place, we would advise our members that they should carefully review the scope of permitted activities under these regulations before trading to or from Cuba.