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Japan will soon decide whether to allow into its market U.S. beef that arrived before Tokyo reinstated an import ban on U.S. beef in January, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka said Friday.

The ban was lifted in July, but the beef has yet to clear customs at ports and other areas in Japan.

“We have been planning to make a judgment after watching (U.S. beef imports) for about three months (following the resumption of imports),” Matsuoka told reporters after a Cabinet meeting. “We intend to carefully consider this in order to make a final decision.”

The beef in question amounts to about 1,000 tons. It has been kept on ice since Japan reinstated its import ban on U.S. beef in January immediately after a veal shipment from the United States that arrived at Narita airport was found to contain spinal cord, a risk material banned under a bilateral agreement on beef trade.

After the first U.S. case of mad cow disease was discovered in December 2003, Japan banned U.S. beef. The ban was lifted in December, but imports lasted only a month.

As for U.S. beef imports after Japan lifted the reinstated ban in July, Matsuoka said the ministry believes there has been no problems.

He said a larger amount of U.S. beef has been imported since July than was imported after the previous ban was removed last December.

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