Japan is relaxing restrictions on imported beef from four countries including Canada, a decade after raising barriers amid the so-called mad cow disease scare.
Japan's Foreign Ministry announced Monday that it will allow imports of beef from cows up to 30 months old, effective Feb. 1. The previous standard was to ban imports of beef from animals older than 20 months.
The Canadian government estimates the potential market value of beef exports to Japan will rise to between $140 million and $150 million a year, about double what they have been under the tighter rules.
Japan's Health Ministry approved the step -- which also apply to beef imports from the United States, France and Netherlands -- following public hearings.
Canada's government issued a statement from Ottawa welcoming the change in rules.
"As part of our government's plan to create jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for all Canadians by opening new markets, we have been working closely with Japan to expand access for our exporters," said Trade Minister Ed Fast.
"Today's announcement is proof that these efforts are getting results, and we look forward to taking our trading relationship with Japan to the next level through an Economic Partnership Agreement which would provide additional export opportunities for Canadian businesses."
Japan banned beef imports in 2003 from several countries after a fatal brain disease was discovered in a few animals, leading to concern that eating their meat could pose a health risk for humans.
Canadian beef producers were hit hard by the import bans imposed by Japan and other countries, including the United States. The Canadian monitoring system was also criticized and later improved.
In 2005, Japan allowed imports of beef 20 months or younger.
-- with files from The Associated Press