Japan and the United States are expected to hold talks as early as later this month on easing Japanese restrictions on American beef imports, following Tokyo's announcement that it will stop re-inspecting all beef shipments from the U.S. and shift to a sampling system of inspections.
The Japanese government announced the decision to end re-inspections of all beef shipments from the U.S. on Wednesday after it found no safety problems at dozens of U.S. meatpacking facilities it inspected. Japanese officials inspected 28 meatpacking plants in 14 states in May to evaluate their compliance with restrictions imposed by Japan amid concerns over mad cow disease.
While welcoming the Japanese decision, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns on Wednesday reiterated his call for Japan and other countries to set a specific timeframe for relaxing restrictions on American beef imports.
Japan banned imports of American beef in December, 2003 after the first case of mad cow disease was found in the U.S. The ban was eased in December, 2005, but tightened again the following month after spinal bones prohibited under the bilateral agreement were found in a veal shipment. Tokyo eased the restrictions again last July, but allowed only meat from cows aged 20 months or younger to enter Japan. Japan also bans meat with certain bone or spinal material attached.
Although Japan resumed imports of American beef last year, the import volume is still one-tenth of what it was before the 2003 ban.
Some Japanese news reports said that Japan's Agriculture Minister Norihiko Akagi will likely meet Johanns in Germany next week to confirm the launch of negotiations between experts from the countries, probably later this month or next month.