Japan to relax US restrictions

Japan could be set to relax import restrictions on US beef, according to reports.

Under an agreement between Japan and the US, Japanese inspectors will visit US meat plants to check standards. If they are acceptable, the country will then accept US imports without checking every meat shipment from the approved plants.

Japan only began accepting limited beef imports in July following a mad cow scare in 2003.

"The inspections which Japan has been calling for have been accepted. This is big progress because they will confirm safety," said Japan's agriculture minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka to the BBC.

The US added that the deal was an "important first step" in its efforts to expand its beef trade with the country.

The issue has been a sore point between the two nations - with the US threatening sanctions if Japan did not lift its conditions.

Up until now, however, Japan has refused to accept any US cattle older than 20 months at the time of slaughter.

Prior to the 2003 ban, Japan had been the main export market for US beef - worth an estimated $1.4bn (£700m).

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