Cuba to scrap 'too restrictive' private-sector activities list as economic pressures grow

FILE PHOTO: Workers unload products at the first wholesale outlet for private eateries in Havana

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba's Communist government said late on Thursday it would scrap a list that sets out a tight definition of business activities permitted in the island nation's fledgling private sector, a move seen boosting self-employment, small firms and start-ups.

The move follows a string of measures loosening restrictions on the private sector over the past month as the government turns to limited reforms to tackle an economic crisis in the wake of key ally Venezuela's implosion, increased U.S. sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.

Labor Minister Marta Elena Feito said during a televised roundtable that the pandemic had proven the list was too restrictive, citing unauthorized production of personal protective equipment by private sector workers.

Cuban economists and private sector backers welcomed the move, but said much would depend on implementation. Cubans must still apply for a license to work in the private sector, giving authorities a high degree of discretion over what is allowed.

"This has surprised me! It's good news and something we have been asking for years," said Camilo Condis, an entrepreneur and host of popular podcast "El Enjambre" ("The Swarm"), in a post on Twitter. "Now it remains to be seen how and when they will implement this."

Cuba has opened centrally planned economy to the private sector in fits and starts since the 1990s, weighing up the need to stimulate lackluster growth with concerns over rising inequality in incomes and the loss of state control.

In recent years it had backtracked on some market-style reforms as those concerns gained the upper hand.

But measures adopted over the past month include the opening of a wholesale outlet in the capital to private eateries for the first time and the authorization for small private businesses to import and export, albeit through state companies.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)