- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2006

From combined dispatches

TOKYO — Japan has agreed to lift its ban on U.S. beef imports — imposed early this year amid concerns over mad cow disease, the Agriculture Ministry said today.

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

The accord came after a videoconference between the two sides, said Agriculture Ministry official Hiroaki Ogura.

“Japan agreed to resume U.S. beef imports on the condition that we find no further problems during on-site inspections,” Mr. Ogura said, without giving further details about the inspections.

The first U.S. beef shipments likely will reach the Japanese market in the second half of July at the earliest, giving Tokyo time to conduct inspections at U.S. meatpacking plants, Japan’s Kyodo News agency reported today.

As one condition for the lifting of the reinstated ban, Japan’s Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry will send officials to the United States to inspect whether 35 meatpacking plants certified to ship beef to Japan are complying with export requirements, the Japanese government officials told Kyodo. Only facilities whose safety measures are judged by Japanese officials as appropriate will be authorized to export beef to Japan, they said.

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 agreement clears up a major source of friction between the two nations before Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visits the United States next week.

The talks were run by the 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.

At stake was a trading relationship worth millions of dollars to 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.

The Agriculture Department says that New York-based Atlantic Veal & Lamb and a government inspector misunderstood new trade rules when they allowed prohibited veal to be shipped to Japan.

Mad cow disease is medically known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. In humans, eating meat contaminated with BSE is linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare and deadly nerve disorder.

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