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Visiting U.S. Senator Max Baucus and high-ranking Japanese officials agreed Monday that the ban on beef imports from the United States should not be in place for a long period, government officials said.

The agreement was reached when Baucus met separately with agricultural minister Yoshiyuki Kamei, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda and trade chief Shoichi Nakagawa, the officials said.

During the meetings, Baucus, a Democrat from Montana, stressed that the U.S. attaches great importance to the resumption of beef shipments to Japan, the officials said.

Kamei denied Japan would prolong the import ban, they said.

Japan put the ban in place immediately after the U.S. announced in late December its first case of mad cow disease.

Tokyo is urging the U.S. to test all cattle for the brain-wasting disease before removing its import ban.

Baucus brushed aside the Japanese demand as unscientific and failing to comply with international standards for checking beef safety, the officials said.

He is visiting Asia to expand U.S. trade with the region at a time when Japan-U.S. negotiations over the import ban have been suspended for more than a month.

Japan and the U.S. have yet to set a deadline for such negotiations.

A ministerial meeting of the OECD in Paris on May 13 could provide a chance for Tokyo and Washington to hold a bilateral ministerial meeting on the issue.

A government source said a key factor for lifting the import ban will be whether specific steps will be proposed prior to the OECD meeting.

Baucus also proposed a free-trade agreement between Japan and the United States, a move that Japanese officials said was met with reservations.

During meetings with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda and other government officials, Baucus said economic relations between Japan and the U.S. need to be reinforced in a variety of ways, including the creation of an FTA, they said.

No WTO, Japan says

Japan does not want the United States to take Tokyo’s ban on U.S. beef imports to the World Trade Organization, a top farm ministry official said Monday.

“This is not a trade issue but an issue of food safety and security,” Mamoru Ishihara, vice minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, said at a news conference.

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