Japan is expected to relax restrictions on imports of U.S. beef as early as November to make it easier for Tokyo to take part in Washington-led trans-Pacific free trade talks, the Nikkei business daily said Wednesday.
Currently Japan allows imports of U.S. beef only from cattle aged 20 months or younger, but given ebbing global concerns about mad cow disease, Japan's Food Safety Commission (FSC) is assessing the risk of easing that limit to 30 months.
The rules, in place since 2005, permitted U.S. beef imports after a total ban in 2003, but have capped U.S. shipments while Australian beef has largely retained its dominant share of Japan's 500,000 tonnes-a-year market for imported beef.
The commission's panel of experts is scheduled to discuss a draft report on the risk of relaxing the age limit on July 24.
If finalized, the report would be open to public comments before submission to the Health Ministry, a commission official said. The ministry had asked for recommendations on this issue last December.
The Nikkei said the commission's report would recommend relaxing the age limit to 30 months or younger, the international standard.
U.S. meat exporters have said they expected Japan to relax its import restrictions this year.
-- Reporting for Reuters by Risa Maeda
Canada launches trade talks with Japan, eyes Thailand deal, March 26, 2012
Japan's beef import restrictions under review: Feds, Dec. 9, 2011