Japan's main government spokesman has said that prospects for an end to the country's ban on imports of US beef had improved after a group of experts nears completion of its risk assessment of US beef.

"I think prospects are bright, and we now have some sense of an outlook," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda was quoted by Reuters as saying.

A subcommittee of Japan's Food Safety Commission has said that it would soon rule on the safety of US beef after carrying out a risk assessment, reported Reuters.

The ban was introduced nearly two years ago after a case of BSE, or mad cow disease, was found in a cow in Washington state in December 2003.