TOKYO — Japan’s food safety commission is moving closer to removing import restrictions on U.S. beef imposed as a measure against mad cow disease, commission officials said Wednesday.
Japan has been facing U.S. pressure, which grew stronger under the administration of President Donald Trump, to scrap the current restrictions allowing only U.S. beef from cattle aged 30 months or younger, due to concerns over bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease.
The Food Safety Commission of Japan plans to convene a meeting of its research unit Thursday to seek approval over the plan on lifting the restrictions. The commission will later report the plan to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.
The commission’s research panel began discussing from April potential effects on people’s health in case the restrictions are scrapped, based on the ministry’s request.
The study has included whether the United States has implemented proper food safety management in the handling of cattle tissues carrying high risk for contamination of the disease-causing agent prion.
No specific problems have been pointed out in the discussions thus far, the officials said.
Japan banned all imports of U.S. beef in 2003 following the discovery of BSE in the U.S. cattle herd, but in 2005, it resumed imports of U.S. beef from cattle no more than 20 months of age.
Japan has since eased import restrictions in steps on the grounds the United States has been internationally recognized as having the lowest risk for the disease.
The issue of import restrictions has been brought up in bilateral economic dialogue, among other occasions, with the United States strongly requesting an early elimination of the restrictions in the hope of reducing the trade deficit with Japan.
Removal of the restrictions may help the United States cut costs that have been necessary to meet Japanese regulations and enable it to maintain the competitiveness of its beef products against rival Australia, even after the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact enters into force without the United States on Dec. 30.
Both Japan and Australia are members of the revised TPP pact, which covers 13 percent of the global economy.
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