US food companies have been taking advantage of an exception to the US embargo on trade with Cuba to push up sales to the Caribbean Island.

According to the Associated Press, a report from the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, Inc, said that US companies had exported US$391.9 million of products including wheat, corn, rice, chicken and soybean oil in 2004, up from  US$256.9 million in 2003, putting Cuba in 25th place on a list of 228 food export markets.

Cuba buys more American food than several other countries in the region with regular US trade ties, including El Salvador, Panama, Venezuela, Peru and Brazil. It also buys more than India, Pakistan, Vietnam and Portugal.

The Cuban government says it has contracted to buy more than $1 billion in American farm goods since it began taking advantage of the embargo exception in 2001. The U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, however, calculates this total to be $791.8 million.

The discrepancy exists because the council includes only the cost of the product, while the Cuban government also counts the shipping and hefty bank fees to send payments through third nations, the Associated Press said.