US eases travel, trade with Cuba from Friday: Treasury

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States will ease travel and trade restrictions with Cuba on Friday, implementing last month’s agreement to begin normalising ties with the Cold War-era foe.

“Today’s announcement takes us one step closer to replacing out-of-date policies that were not working and puts in place a policy that helps promote political and economic freedom for the Cuban people,” Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said Thursday.

While a US trade embargo remains in effect, the rule changes will ease restrictions on travel, raise a limit on remittances, allow US banks to establish accounts in Cuban banks, facilitate telecommunications services with the island and allow exports of communications devices and supporting services.

“These changes will immediately enable the American people to provide more resources to empower the Cuban population to become less dependent upon the state-driven economy, and help facilitate our growing relationship with the Cuban people,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

US President Barack Obama and Cuba’s President Raul Castro announced the historic agreement Dec 17, opening the way for a reconciliation after more than 50 years of hostile relations.

Thursday’s announcement came just days after the State Department said Cuba had freed 53 prisoners, making good on a pledge to Washington.

The changes go into effect on Friday when they are published in the Federal Register, the government said.

“To the extent legally possible, the president has made clear that we want US policy to ease the burdens on the Cuban citizens we seek to help,” Mr Lew said.

“Cuba has real potential for economic growth and by increasing travel, commerce, communications, and private business development between the United States and Cuba, the United States can help the Cuban people determine their own future,” he said.