U.S. removes limits on bringing in Cuban rum, cigars
Americans traveling to Cuba will soon be able to bring home a lot more of the island’s famous cigars and rum.
The Obama administration said Friday it would increase the current $100 limit on the combined value of Cuban alcohol and tobacco products for Americans returning from the island. Starting Oct. 17, U.S. residents will be free to import as many as 100 Cuban cigars and 1 liter of Cuban rum, the same limits that apply to alcohol and tobacco products from other countries.
Also lifted will be the prohibition on importing for personal use Cuban cigars and rum procured in third countries.
The Obama administration has now made six sets of changes loosening the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba in the hopes that the normalization of relations with the island will not be reversed by a future administration. This round is expected to be the last before President Barack Obama leaves office.
Cuban rum and cigars will now be subject to the same duties as alcohol and tobacco from other countries. Because high-end Cuban cigars can sell for more than $100 apiece outside Cuba, every U.S. traveler can now legally bring back many thousands of dollars of Cuban products, potentially generating hundreds of millions of dollars in new annual revenue for the Cuban state.
The change does not mean that Cuban rum and cigars will be available for sale in the U.S. — the change is aimed at tobacco and alcohol brought home for personal use.
The previous limit restricted travelers to a combined value of $100 in rum and cigars, although enforcement of the limit notably declined after President Obama declared detente with Cuba on Dec. 17, 2014.
The administration has described its policy goal as aimed at helping the Cuban people improve their lives by winning greater economic and political freedom from the single-party state.
“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,” Obama said in a statement announcing the changes.
Rum and cigar production is entirely government-run under Cuba’s centrally planned communist economy. While the first regulatory changes focused narrowly on helping Cuba’s growing private sector, Friday’s new rules are almost entirely aimed at similarly state-run industries including shipping and medical products.
The package of regulatory changes announced Friday also allows cargo ships to visit U.S. ports directly after docking in Cuba. They had been barred from U.S. ports for 180 days after visiting Cuba. Cuba blamed that measure for harming its ability to import and export and dampening hopes that a new military-run port in the city of Mariel could serve as a major link in the cargo shipping system.
More than 160,000 American travelers visited Cuba last year and that figure is expected to double this year.
Bloomberg News contributed.