After nearly 40 years of a US-imposed economic embargo, Cuba can now expect regulations for the import of US food and medicine to be in place "by the end of May."

"We're very, very close to having the regulations in place," added US commerce secretary Don Evans, speaking at a House appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Commerce Department's budget.

The US embargo was placed on trade in 1962 because of political concerns over Cuba's communist leadership. Last autumn however congress voted overwhelmingly to abandon sanctions on food and medicine exports to Cuba, and the food groups and farm state lawmakers that supported the move maintained that trade relations would open up the country economically and help foster democracy.

Signed into law by President Clinton last autumn, the food and medicine trade was due to begin in February. The necessary rules to regulate sales have been slow coming however, largely held up by disputes within President Bush's new administration over how far the sanctions should be loosened.