TOKYO (AP) _ The United States has agreed to require further training of American workers handling beef exports to Japan, U.S. agriculture officials said Wednesday.
The U.S. delegation, led by Chuck Lambert, undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, finished two days of talks in Japan in hopes of lifting Tokyo's ban on U.S. beef.
Lambert told reporters the U.S. would provide additional training to beef workers and follow up to make sure they know what meat products are prohibited in Japan and which are allowed.
``From our viewpoint, this is another step on the path to lifting the barrier,'' he said. ``We had a very thorough and complete discussion, and reached an agreement over further measures.''
Hirofumi Kugita, chief of the Animal Health Division at the Agriculture Ministry, said the two countries reached a degree of understanding but cautioned that differences remained.
``We discussed our concerns in a positive manner and were able to hold meaningful talks,'' Kugita said. ``However, there are numerous issues that remain to be discussed. We have yet to solve all of our problems.''
Going into the talks, the U.S. knew Japan would have more questions, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said Wednesday.
``That's not unexpected _ we anticipate that there are going to be some additional things that we have to put in place,'' Johanns told reporters at the Agriculture Department in Washington.
``My hope is that it's not a stalling tactic,'' he added. ``There'll probably be some additional questions. We'll respond to those very quickly. But there's a point where this needs to be resolved, and we have really reached that point now.''
Japan shut its doors to American beef in January after spine bones were found in a U.S. veal shipment. The bones are considered by Japan to be at risk for mad cow disease and are banned under the agreement that eased a prior ban on U.S. beef in December.
Japan has been pressing the U.S. for more details on why the mishap occurred and what further steps Washington would take to ensure the safety of its meat.
The U.S. issued a lengthy report about its safety system in February, and then answered follow-up questions from Japan. Officials in Tokyo last week said they would press Washington for further clarifications.
Japan banned all imports of U.S. beef in December 2003 after the discovery of the first case of mad cow disease in the American herd. That ban was eased in December 2005 to allow imports of American beef from cows aged 20 months or younger which did not contain body parts thought at risk of mad cow disease, but trade was halted again after the faulty veal shipment.
Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is a degenerative nerve disease in cattle. Eating contaminated meat products has been linked to the rare but fatal variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.