The US has lifted a ban on imports of beef from France – bringing the total number of European Union member states upon which the ban has been lifted to four, the European Commission said.

Brussels said the move “represents a new stage in the reopening of a market which has been closed since the BSE epidemic in the 1990s”.

Ireland, Lithuania and the Netherlands have already had bans rescinded by the US.

EU Commissioners Cecilia Malmström, Vytenis Andriukaitis and Phil Hogan – who are responsible for trade, health and food safety and agriculture respectively – said in a joint statement: “This further illustrates that the EU’s efforts to eradicate BSE from its territory have been successful. This is wonderful news for French producers, and the Commission will continue to work with all the parties concerned to make sure that, in the near future, all member states have the same access to the American market.”

The US market has been closed to beef from the EU since January 1998, when the US introduced restrictions on the import of bovine, ovine and caprine meat in the wake of the BSE epidemic. The Commission maintained the restrictions were “harsher than the recommendations of the World Organisation for Animal Health” and that “European beef is therefore safe for consumers”.

Ireland was the first EU member state given the green light by the US to resume beef exports.