Japan is planning to lift a ban on beef imports from Uruguay next year, ending a more than 17-year embargo following the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the South American nation in 2000, according to government sources.

Following on-site checks, an expert panel of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry determined earlier this month that sufficient safeguards are in place at farms and meat processing facilities in Uruguay.

The decision to lift the import ban will likely be finalized at upper-level meetings next year, the sources said.

The latest outbreak of the livestock disease in Uruguay, a major beef exporting nation, occurred in 2001. Japan maintained the ban even after the World Organization for Animal Health accredited Uruguay as being free of the disease in 2003, and the organization has demanded Japan remove the embargo.

Japan and Uruguay will discuss certain conditions for lifting the ban, such as excluding heads and innards from export as they could easily contain the virus, the sources said.