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WASHINGTON (Kyodo) Ten bipartisan U.S. senators submitted a resolution Thursday for immediate sanctions against Japan over its failure to lift its 15-month-old import ban on American beef.

With the Senate move following a similar measure by the House of Representatives earlier this month, U.S. political pressure has risen ahead of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Japan on Friday and Saturday.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda indicated Friday in Tokyo that Japan is fed up with the repeated U.S. pressure.

“We are aware of political moves on the U.S. side. But the United States has also been banning imports of Japanese beef due to BSE in Japan for more than three years,” he said in reference to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, otherwise known as mad cow disease.

“It is not that easy to make progress on the issue of food safety in this way.”

The senators’ resolution urges the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to “immediately impose retaliatory economic measures” against Japan for failing to lift the ban despite a bilateral agreement in October to resume imports of beef from animals aged up to 20 months.

The Senate measure mirrors a resolution submitted March 3 by a bipartisan group of House members. It comes after 20 senators from farming states sent a joint letter last month to Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Ryozo Kato, threatening to pursue economic sanctions if Japan fails to quickly lift the ban.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns handed the letter directly to Kato.

Kato was summoned March 11 and Monday by lawmakers urging Japan to set a time frame to resume imports to prevent it from forcing Washington to slap sanctions and hurt bilateral ties.

“The Japanese ambassador could not tell us when the border will reopen, and that’s not acceptable,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who sponsored the resolution.

“It was like a bunch of bureaucratic mumbo jumbo,” he said. “It is terribly frustrating that there are no timelines . . . no deadlines.”

Noting that the U.S. industry has lost an estimated $2 billion in sales due to the ban, Thune said, “Japan must understand that there will be consequences to their continued inaction.”

Johanns also urged Japan Thursday to set a time frame.

“My hope is that there will be candid discussions about the need to set a date to reopen the beef trade,” Johanns told a news conference, referring to Rice’s visit.

Johanns stressed the need for Japan to recognize the growing concern in Congress and lift the 15-month-old import ban to avoid hurting bilateral economic ties.

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