Japan, U.S. Likely To Restart Beef Import Talks

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan and the United States are likely to resume talks as early as in September on relaxing Tokyo's curbs on U.S. beef imports, Japanese farm minister Masahiko Yamada said Friday.

Yamada told reporters of the prospect after a meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Japan has limited beef imports from the United States since the first U.S. case of mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, was discovered in 2003. Japan currently bans imports of U.S. beef from cattle aged over 20 months.

While Washington has been asking Tokyo to gradually soften the age rule, Tokyo has maintained a cautious stance on the issue.

On April 8, then farm minister Hirotaka Akamatsu and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack agreed to restart the talks, which have been stalled since August 2007.

At the start of their first meeting, Yamada was quoted by a ministry official as telling Roos that the United States "is the biggest exporter of agricultural products to Japan and is the most important country for Japan."

Roos responded that the bilateral partnership in the field of agriculture is also very important for the United States.