December 16, 2016 / 7:42 PM / 8 months ago

New Cuban reform allows farmers to hire workers directly

HAVANA, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Cuban farmers may now hire laborers directly rather than through cooperatives, the government said on Friday, marking a modest advance to loosen controls in its Soviet-style economy.

Communist-led Cuba has introduced a series of reforms under President Raul Castro but the pace of change has slowed in the past year, raising questions about its commitment to reform.

"The new resolution aim fundamentally to stimulate the hiring of workers related to agricultural labor in an agile, orderly and legal way," Cuban state-run media wrote on Friday.

In other sectors of the economy, like restaurants, Cuba has already allowed small business holders to directly hire staff.

The new regulations streamline labor conditions, said Paolo Spadoni, the author of several books on the Cuban economy and associate professor of political science at Augusta University in the United States.

"But the resolution alone will do little to boost production and efficiency unless it will be accompanied by additional changes" such as liberalizing food distribution and giving farmers freer rein to set their own prices, he said.

Like many of its Caribbean neighbors, Cuba imports more than two-thirds of its food, despite having rich farmland.

Recent market reforms have aimed to boost production by handing out land to new farmers.

Yet it has backtracked on some reforms in the past year in the face of rising food costs. For example, the state restored some price controls.

Analysts say this may ease the short-term pain for Cuban consumers but it is counterproductive in the longer term, as the reforms would eventually raise production and thus lower prices. (Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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