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U.S. to resume beef imports from Japan after two-year ban

TOKYO (Reuters) - The United States will restart importing beef from Japan this month, ending a two-year suspension imposed after foot-and-mouth disease was found in Japanese cows, the farm ministry in Tokyo said.

Imports into the U.S., which were halted in April 2010 after the discovery of Japanese cows infected with the virus, will resume on August 17, Japan's farm ministry said in a statement released on Friday.

"The United States (will) resume imports from Japan from August 17 onwards, acknowledging that (Japan) is clean from foot-and-mouth disease," the ministry said.

The value of Japan's beef exports to the United States was 1.08 billion yen ($13.74 million) in 2007, but fell to 210 million yen in 2010 when imports were suspended, the Yomiuri newspaper said.

Japan is expected to relax restrictions on imports of U.S. beef as early as November to make it easier for Tokyo to take part in Washington-led trans-Pacific free trade talks, the Nikkei business daily said last month.

Currently Japan allows imports of U.S. beef only from cattle aged 20 months or younger, but given ebbing global concerns about mad cow disease, Japan's Food Safety Commission (FSC) is assessing the risk of easing that limit to 30 months.

The rules, in place since 2005, permitted U.S. beef imports after a total ban in 2003, but have capped U.S. shipments while Australian beef has largely retained its dominant share of Japan's 500,000 tonnes-a-year market for imported beef.

($1 = 78.5950 Japanese yen)

(Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

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