Japan in no rush to reopen its market to U.S. beef

Japan is in no hurry to reopen its market to U.S. beef ahead of the prime minister's trip to the United States, Japanese officials said Friday, even as Washington's commerce chief insisted the meat is safe.

Health Minister Jiro Kawasaki said that the U.S. officials visiting earlier in the week had failed to provide enough information to quell Tokyo's concerns over American beef, which has been banned in Japan since January.

"The U.S. explained about the two facilities with problems. There remains an issue of what measures they will take to gain trust" in other facilities, he said at a press conference.

Japan shut its doors to American beef after spinal bones were found in a U.S. veal shipment. The bones are considered by Japan to be at risk for mad cow disease and are banned under an agreement that eased a prior ban on U.S. beef in December.

The U.S. Agriculture Department issued a report in February about the connection of two companies to the faulty shipment. American officials earlier this week pledged further training of companies handling beef bound for Japan.

Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa, however, said on Friday that Tokyo is not rushing to reopen its market after U.S Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns reportedly expressed hope that Japan will resume imports before Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to Washington expected in late June.

"I haven't heard that the prime minister's visit to the U.S. has been formally decided, and this is not something we need to take into account" in restarting imports, Nakagawa said.

Visiting U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said in Tokyo that he discussed reopening Japan's market to U.S. beef at a meeting with Japanese government leaders Thursday, reports the AP.


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