WASHINGTON (Kyodo) U.S. President George W. Bush promised Congress in a trade report Tuesday that his administration will take “all appropriate steps” to ensure that Japan quickly lifts its 15-month-old ban on American beef.

“At the highest levels of government, the administration is pressing Japan to expeditiously reopen this critical market for U.S. beef,” according to the 2005 Trade Policy Agenda and 2004 Annual Report of the President on the Trade Agreements Programs submitted to Congress.

Calling it a priority among many other issues related to Japan, ranging from postal privatization to regulatory reforms, the report says the Bush administration “will take all appropriate steps to ensure that this occurs.”

The annual report, prepared by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, comes amid increasing pressure from lawmakers and the beef industry.

Twenty U.S. senators from major farm producing states recently sent a joint letter to Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Ryozo Kato, threatening retaliatory economic actions if Japan fails to quickly reopen the market to American beef.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, who handed the letter to Kato last week, expressed concern to lawmakers Tuesday that the issue “could further complicate” bilateral relations if Japan continues to delay its lifting of the import ban.

Johanns also told a House of Representatives Agriculture Committee hearing that he sent a letter last week to his Japanese counterpart, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoshinobu Shimamura.

Japan was the largest importer of U.S. beef before it imposed the ban in December 2003 when the United States discovered its first case of mad cow disease.

The report also vows to deal with the same ban imposed by South Korea, the second largest importer, as a “top priority.”

Japan has repeatedly told the United States that it is waiting for the ongoing deliberations by the Food Safety Commission to reach a conclusion on whether to stop domestic blanket testing of slaughtered cattle and exclude animals aged 20 months or younger from the test.

A governmental expert panel agreed last month to accept a U.S.-proposed method for verifying cattle ages. The two nations had been at odds over the verification method, although they reached an agreement in October to resume imports of beef from animals aged up to 20 months.

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