The White House announced on Friday further loosening of its trade embargo with Cuba, according to Reuters and US National Public Radio.
Under these changes in regulations US shipping companies can go to Cuba without a special licence and will be allowed to have drop-off locations there, part of a swathe of changes enabling easier business connections.
Exporters of certain goods – including agricultural products and construction materials for privately-owned buildings – will be authorized to employ Cuban nationals as well as open and maintain bank accounts in Cuba. They will also be approved to employ citizens or residents of the US in Cuba.
The regulations are the latest step in a thawing of relations between the two countries, a process encouraged by the Obama administration, which would like to see full normalization.
President Barack Obama announced the first wave of looser regulations in January this year.
In July diplomatic ties were restored and embassies were reopened in the two capitals.
Among the non-shipping-related highlights of Friday’s announcement are easing of banking and Internet restrictions and the allowing of some US firms to set up offices on the island, which sits 90 miles off of Florida.
The new rules do not allow carte blanche for US firms to invest in Cuba nor complete freedom for tourists to travel there.
But the idea that that is the path being taken means there is increased likelihood of much more marine cargo traffic between the nations in future.
Opponents say the US should not be in such a rush without seeing a quid pro quo in terms of improved Cuban human rights.
Supporters say market engagement will have a positive social and political effect on Cuba as well as economic one.
Knowing that the Republican-controlled Congress would stifle even Friday’s moves, President Obama used his executive powers as far as he could this time.
But wholesale lifting of the embargo would still have to come with Congress’ seal of approval so full normalization is hard to foresee during this president’s term.
Pope Francis was a facilitator of the first breakthrough between the two long-time foes and he is about to visit both nations just as the latest rules are announced.
The embargo has been in place for 53 years since the Cuban revolution saw the Communist government of Fidel Castro grab power. The ailing elder Castro handed the reins of power to his brother Raul in February 2008.