Despite the Obama administration’s easing of some restrictions on travel and commerce with Cuba, don’t expect Starbucks to soon dot every Havana street corner or Marriott to start building a beachfront hotel.
The U.S. trade embargo imposed in the 1960s, and subsequent further restrictions on commerce with Cuba, remain in effect and can be lifted only by Congress. For the time being, companies from Canada, Brazil, Spain, Mexico and elsewhere can breathe easy. They won’t be facing well-financed U.S. competitors, either in trade or investment on the island.
Most trade with, and investment in, Cuba remains off limits. That’s because the openings announced Friday restrict commercial activities to individual Cubans without ties to government and private companies. And Cuba remains an almost entirely state-run economy.
The relaxed rules “push the ball forward,” said Paul Johnson, president of Chicago Foods International and vice chairman of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, which hopes to roll back the embargo. “But it’s going to take an act of Congress to do anything truly impactful. There’s a lot that can’t be done yet.”