Japanese consumer groups on Thursday threatened to boycott US beef if the government lifted its near two-year ban on imports, claiming Tokyo was being bullied by Washington into resuming trade in potentially dangerous meat.
Consumer groups held a rally in front of Japan's parliament in Tokyo to protest a bill introduced this week by US senators that would impose punitive tariffs on Japanese goods if Japan failed to lift its beef ban.
The tariffs would affect Japanese exports worth $3.14bn annually.
Japan introduced the ban in December 2003 after the discovery of a BSE-infected cow, of Canadian origin, on a US farm. The ban has cost American farmers and slaughterhouses nearly $3bn to date.
Hiroyuki Hosoda, chief cabinet spokesman, said Japan would not allow the threat of punitive tariffs to influence its decision on resumption of imports, which he said would be based on scientific evidence alone.
Consumer organisations say Japan has come under intense political pressure to sign a deal on the resumption of US beef imports before President George W. Bush visits Japan next month.
Local media said imports could start by December, but the government has not yet given a date.
The dispute has become a sore point in Japan-US relations. Some US legislators have accused Tokyo of hiding behind bogus science as a quasi-protectionist measure.
Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, made the issue a priority when she met Junichiro Koizumi, prime minister, in Tokyo earlier this year.
Washington has consistently said Japan over-reacted to an isolated case, although that argument was weakened when a second case was discovered on a US farm in June, reports Ohmy News International. I.L.