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Farm minister Yoshiyuki Kamei on Friday brushed aside a U.S. request for outside mediation aimed at breaking the impasse over Japan’s ban on U.S. beef imports.

Kamei, minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, said the proposal to involve the Paris-based Organization for Animal Health is not in keeping with the dispute-solving process the two sides have adopted thus far.

Kamei told a news conference that the two sides have held dialogue on ways to regain Japanese consumer confidence in U.S. beef.

Yet the U.S. proposal for aiming to resolve the dispute by the end of this month through the body is not “realistic,” he said, indicating the matter will probably take more time to be settled.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman on Monday sent a letter to Kamei, proposing that Tokyo and Washington jointly ask the Organization for Animal Health to issue a judgment on the issue by the end of April.

Japan, along with several other countries, banned U.S. beef after the U.S. in December discovered its first case of mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Washington’s proposal forms part of a drive to seek the resumption of imports by Japan.

In Tokyo, a farm ministry official said the ministry will soon reject the U.S. proposal, as international mediation is unlikely to prompt Washington to accept Tokyo’s demand that all beef be tested for mad cow disease, as is the case in Japan, as a condition for lifting the import ban.

On Thursday in Washington, Veneman and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick voiced disappointment over Japan’s position and urged Tokyo anew to agree on the international mediation proposal.

Yoshinoya sees slump

Fast-food chain Yoshinoya D&C Co. said Friday its same-store sales fell 23.1 percent in March from a year earlier following the suspension in sales of its main “gyudon” beef-on-rice dish.

Yoshinoya suspended sales of the beef dish in mid-February after its supplies of U.S. beef ran out. Japan had banned imports of U.S. beef in December following the outbreak of mad cow disease in the United States.

In place of gyudon, Yoshinoya put a “butadon” pork-on-rice dish on the menu, but revenues from the new dish fell short of making up the sales shortfall after the beef dish was removed.

Yoshinoya suffered a 20 percent drop in customer numbers in March and recorded a 3.9 percent drop in sales per customer.

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