Door Opens Slightly for US Brands in Cuba, But Plenty of Barriers Still Remain

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With a change of international rules last Friday, Cubans could find themselves enjoying a “bold, satisfying cup” of Starbucks decaf Pike Place Roast “that’s rich in flavor yet balanced enough to enjoy every day.”

OK, so Cubans will have to make their own cup of joe, as Starbucks can only sell packaged coffees—not prepared drinks like lattes or cappuccinos, Reuters reports.

Still, a shift in regulations about how America and Cuba interact could allow US companies to sell products to a whole new market of people.

Some say Friday’s regulation shift is the result of President Obama using a “sledgehammer” on the old embargo, while others simply classify it as an easing off of the old ways. Either way, the door has been opened a bit for businesses to further engage with consumers in Cuba.

Some businesses are ready to move there in whatever way they can. Of course, all businesses will first have to pass the muster of the Cuban government.

“You don’t just go down to Cuba and hang up your shingles,” cautioned Kirby Jones, head of Alamar Associates, according to Reuters. “That’s not how it operates.”

United Parcel Service says it “welcomes the opportunity to provide logistics services in and out of Cuba as regulations are changed.” Meanwhile, agribusiness group Archer Daniels Midland Co. is “ready to adapt” to meet the new rules. Verizon and Sprint will offer cell phone roaming there.

Visitors allowed to travel from the US to Cuba still have a lot of restrictions, but it will be easier for airlines and cruise lines to put Cuba on their schedule without the US government putting up too much of a stink.

In fact, travel is the one industry that should see some big changes from the new regulations.

Carnival Corp. is negotiating with the Cuban government to allow it to enter the country, Skift reports, with the Carnival Cruise Line and Fathom brands to reap immediate benefits. “For us, Cuba is going to help refresh the Caribbean,” Carnival CEO Arnold Donald told Skift. “As you know we’ve got historical approval to be the first to receive the approval from the US government to sail to Cuba. We have to get the Cuban approval. We’re going to do everything we need to do so that they will be comfortable and happy having us come.”

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that regularly scheduled airline flights connecting Cuba and the US could be back on the schedule as soon as 2016.

“American’s position is: We want to see the introduction of scheduled service, if that’s, in fact, what the two governments want to do,” Howard Kass, American Airline’s vice president of regulatory affairs, told WFAA TV of Dallas. “The other restrictions, we think, will all fall away as ties normalize.”

Given the poverty in Cuba, however, it might make more business sense to try and make money from the folks looking to travel to Cuba than those who already live there.

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