WASHINGTON (Kyodo) U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said Monday he wants Japan to resume importing U.S. beef by July.

But Johanns told reporters that he has neither set nor demanded a deadline for Japan. He reiterated that he is asking Tokyo to set a date to lift the 16-month-old ban and resume imports.

Referring to an earlier bilateral agreement to review the terms of beef trade by July, Johanns said, “I just hope it’ll be sooner than that.”

Washington will probably step up its pressure on Japan to lift the ban by July amid growing frustration in Congress, despite Japan’s agreement with the United States in October to resume imports of U.S. beef from animals aged up to 20 months.

Asked if Japan’s failure to resume imports by July would lead the U.S. government to impose economic sanctions, as demanded by major lawmakers, Johanns said he prefers negotiations because he believes they are the “expeditious way” to resolve the issue.

As for the agreement to resume exports first from animals aged up to 20 months, Johanns said the United States would work toward expanding the scope of the animals for export to Japan.

“My hope is that once American beef returns to the Japanese market, there’ll be great demand for it,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Tokyo on Tuesday, the U.S. urged Japan to exclude beef cattle under the age of 30 months from its blanket beef testing regime.

The move comes just two weeks after an expert panel recommended that Japan scrap its testing policy.

The U.S. government submitted the request in its letter to the Cabinet Office’s Food Safety Commission, which on March 28 recommended a new standard that would require testing for the brain-wasting disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, for slaughtered cattle only over 20 months of age.

While welcoming that recommendation, the U.S. said in the letter that it would “urge Japan to move even further toward harmonization with international practice by raising the minimum age limit for BSE testing from 20 months to 30 months.”

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

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