Cuba reforms: Who are the biggest winners?

A Cuban checks his motorcycle in front of political billboards allusive to the US embargo on Cuba, on April 20, 2009 in Havana. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Cuban embargo is the US's oldest trade sanction, dating to 1961

The 53-year-old Cuban embargo is the US's longest-running trade sanction.

Although US President Barack Obama cannot fully lift that sanction without approval from Congress, his executive action eases several provisions.

This has everyone from Cuban-Americans looking to send money home to big investors eyeing the Cuban economy.

What are some of the biggest potential economic impacts of these reforms?


Currently, US remittances to Cuba are estimated to be around $2bn (£1.3bn) a year, according to the US Department of State.

Mr Obama's action effectively quadruples the amount that US citizens, primarily Cuban Americans, can send to Cuba from $500 to $2,000.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Cuba estimates it needs at least $2.5bn of foreign investment to keep its economy humming

That could be a big boon to the Cuban economy.

More importantly, it has the ability to alter the structure of Cuba's economy by changing the nature of foreign investment in the country, as well as where that investments goes.

Essentially, it could signal a shift from money flowing into Cuba's state-run sector and into the hands of private citizens.

"This particular measure is a sign to promote the sending of money and investment and other kinds of support for the fledgling private economy in Cuba," Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, told the BBC. He notes employment in that sector has already grown to nearly half a million people.

Increasing remittances also solves a problem currently facing the Cuban economy, whose growth this year has effectively ground to a halt.

That sputtering is due to a variety of factors, one of which includes the fact that Cuba's long-standing trading partner, Venezuela, has been suffering as a result of plummeting oil prices.

The government has said it needs at least $2.5bn in outside investment to maintain a steady growth rate, so increasing remittances is one way to boost growth.


One big winner could be US agribusiness.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Currently, US law prohibits the sale of most US agricultural manufacturing equipment to Cuba

Under relaxed restrictions put in place under former US President Bill Clinton in 2000, US agribusinesses were allowed to export food and certain other products to Cuba.

From 2000 to 2013, those exports were an estimated $5bn, and US food exports are estimated to be around $300m this year.

"Currently, Cuba's importing around 60-65% of their food, which is a lot for a country with Cuba's agricultural potential," Florida University professor William A Messina said.

But US firms have recently been losing ground to nations like Brazil, so any loosening of restrictions could be a boom.

"For us, there may be modest gains but for the US agriculture community it gives us a chance to compete against countries like Argentina," Devry Boughner Vorwerk, director of international business relations at Cargill, told the BBC.

It could also help jumpstart Cuba's agricultural industry, particularly if a ban on selling agricultural equipment and pesticides is lifted.

"They have a huge agricultural potential and the ability to import equipment would be beneficial," added Prof Messina.


Another major aspect of the reforms is an easing of travel restrictions to Cuba, as well as a new measure that would allow US travellers to Cuba to use their debit and credit cards.

Around 170,000 authorised travellers went to Cuba last year, according to the US Department of Commerce.

The new order would ease restrictions in 12 categories, including visas allowing for family visits, professional visits, and educational activities.

While it still bans ordinary tourism, the tourism industry would benefit from the influx of new visitors.

Image caption About 170,000 US citizens travelled to Cuba last year, but that number could increase substantially

"The tourism and tourism-related services that involve both state enterprises and state joint ventures with foreign capital, as well as a growing number of small-and-medium enterprises owned by Cubans, could benefit in the short term," Eric Hershberg, director of the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University, told the BBC on the phone from Havana, Cuba.


Cuba has one of the lowest internet penetration rates in the world - estimated at around 5% by the White House.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Cuban telecommunications networks, from cell phone lines to the internet, could be impacted

"The Cuban economy suffers from a very poor, outdated infrastructure including communications and all kinds of technological advancements including internet and telephones," said Prof Duany.

Part of Mr Obama's reforms would allow US telecommunications firms to begin working with Cuba to build up its current communications infrastructure.

This would both boost the Cuban economy - but also pave the way for allowing more sophisticated financial transactions down the line.


Finally, in a move that perhaps won't make a huge dent on the Cuban economy but will be welcome relief to some, the new rules ease restrictions involving bringing famed Cuban cigars to the US.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption US travellers to Cuba can now bring back $100 worth of tobacco products

US travellers can now bring up to $100 worth of tobacco products back from their visit.

Marcus Daniel, the president of Florida cigar firm Marcus Daniel, Inc, said that could potentially harm US cigar stores like his.

"The tough part is that in the interim, Americans can legally purchase and bring Cuban cigars into the US, but I make my living off of selling cigars and can't legally purchase and sell [Cuban] cigars to them in my store," he told the BBC.

But, he added, he was optimistic that more reforms could be coming, and that the increased awareness could ultimately help him further down the line.

"Most cigar-smoking Americans wanted this done a long time ago - I think I'm going to send a box of cigars to Raul and Obama for a job well done," he said.

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