WASHINGTON (Kyodo) The new U.S. agriculture secretary said Monday he is ready to “do everything,” including visiting Japan, to get the ban on U.S. beef imports lifted.

But Mike Johanns, holding his first news conference after being sworn in Friday, could not say when he expects an agreement, indicating he intends to see how the bilateral expert talks, now in their final stage, play out.

Japan put the ban in place after the discovery in December 2003 of the first U.S. case of mad cow disease. Until then, Japan was America’s biggest overseas beef market.

“I could not be stronger in my belief that this had to be really my top priority,” Johanns, who replaced Ann Veneman, said on his first day of business at the Department of Agriculture.

“I really believe that the day has arrived for trade to resume between our two countries on beef,” he said, stressing that the United States has already done enough to answer “scientific and technical” questions.

At the crux of the issue is how to verify the age of cattle, even though the two nations reached a compromise in October to resume imports of U.S. beef by this spring at the earliest for cows with birth records showing ages of up to 20 months.

Addressing persistent concerns expressed by Japanese experts, Johanns said, “As we’ve worked with countries on the science-based approach, really country after country has reopened their borders to our beef.”

Johanns, a former governor of Nebraska — a major beef-exporting state — also expressed confidence that he can work well with Japan.

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