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List of U.S. imports for Cuba in the works

The list of goods and services that could be imported to the United States from Cuba by private enterprises will be comprehensive in an effort to stimulate creativity among the island’s "self-employed" and motivate the Cuban government to expand its exports, according to a source familiar with the draft document crafted by the the U.S. Department of State.

The Obama administration issued new regulations to support small businesses as part of its move to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. But even as the new rules are now in effect, the State Department must decide who will qualify as part of Cuba’s private sector and what products would be allowed for imports to the island.

One of the major limitations of Cuba’s current policy for the "self-employed," is that of the 201 activities now allowed by Raúl Castro’s government, most require little training and technological infrastructure and employment for other professionals is minimal. For example, among the approved private enterprises are "food vendors" and "beauty salons."

The import list in the works aims to "open the door as wide as possible, so that it is the Cuban government that will have to decide whether to remove barriers to entrepreneurs and, if they do not, that entrepreneurs know it's because of an internal blockade," the source said, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to lack of official authorization to discuss the matter.

Among the items on the list not currently allowed in Cuba is professional translation services, programming and construction enterprises, said the source, adding that the State Department is "anticipating a little ahead."

Some Cuba observers said the approach is positive.

"The big question is whether this will have an impact or if the Cuban government will allow this exchange," said Ted Henken, professor of Sociology at Baruch College.

Archibald Ritter, professor of economics at Carleton University in Canada, said that one of the main obstacles for the United States in trying to support private enterprise on the island is the government’s monopoly on imports and exports.

The new U.S. regulations on exports to Cuba, already made public, authorizes shipments of construction materials, agricultural tools and machinery for private enterprises. But according to Ritter, "this requires changes to the state monopoly on foreign trade," since there is currently no mechanism to allow private entrepreneurs to receive the merchandize independent of the government. Nor is there a wholesale market where the imports can be purchased.

So far, no information has been released in Cuba on the possibility of Cuban export products to the United States from the private sector. The official notice issued by the government on the new trade regulations, in fact, stipulates: “restrictions on exports from the United States to Cuba remains in effect, especially high-tech products, with limited exceptions to sales of construction material, agricultural tools and machinery that will be allowed for the private sector, apparently via Cuban enterprises.”

According to the source familiar with the list, the State Department is considering using a Cuban state enterprise as an intermediary, if there are guarantees that products and raw materials will reach the hands of the self-employed.

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