Japan Agrees to Lift Ban on U.S. Beef Imports

By Mari Yamaguchi
Associated Press
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

TOKYO, June 21 -- Japan agreed Wednesday to lift its ban on U.S. beef imports -- imposed early this year amid concerns over mad cow disease, the Asian nation's agriculture ministry said.

The breakthrough resolves a long-running trade dispute between the allies and gives U.S. ranchers access to what was once their most lucrative export market.

"Japan agreed to resume U.S. beef imports on the condition that we find no further problems during on-site inspections," said agriculture ministry official Hiroaki Ogura. He did not provide details about the inspections. U.S. officials had no immediate comment.

U.S. beef shipments to Japan were halted in January after Japanese officials found a veal shipment that contained backbone, which Asian countries consider at risk for mad cow disease. The cuts are eaten in the United States and other countries, but Japan's rules are stricter.

The accord was reached via a video conference directed by Japanese Agriculture Ministry's consumption safety director, Hiroshi Nakagawa, and his U.S. Agriculture Department counterpart, Chuck Lambert, deputy undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs.

U.S. negotiators had asked Japan to resume beef trade if similar mistakes could be prevented. If a violation is found, the United States wants Japan to restrict shipments only from an individual meatpacking company and not all U.S. processing companies.

At stake was a valuable trading relationship for the U.S. beef industry. Japan's market was worth $1.4 billion annually when it banned American beef in response to the first U.S. case of mad cow disease in 2003. The ban had only recently been lifted before Japan halted shipments.

U.S. officials had been impatient for trade to resume, with several senators saying Tuesday that they would introduce a bill that would impose trade sanctions if Japan did not reopen its market to U.S. beef by Aug. 31.

The agreement comes as Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi prepares to visit President Bush at the end of this month. The two leaders are scheduled to meet in Washington on June 29 and travel to Elvis Presley's Graceland home in Memphis the next day.

Libby Quaid in Washington contributed to this report.

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