Tyson Foods, the world's largest meat processing company, tentatively saw Japan's decision to lift the two-year ban on US beef as a step in the right direction but emphasised the limited impact this will have on the struggling US beef industry.

Before the imposition on the 2003 ban, Japan was a major export market for US beef, accounting for half of all overseas sales. However, it seems unlikely that exports will reach their former levels in the immediate future.

"While we're encouraged US beef exports to Japan will resume soon, sales will be limited," Tyson said yesterday (12 December). Japan has accepted a complex age verification process and will only accept cattle younger than 21-months-old, provisos that will severely limit the amount of US beef coming into the country.

Looking to the rest of Asia, Tyson expressed optimism that Japan's actions would prompt other Asian countries to follow suit. "We are hopeful it will trigger the reopening of key markets in Asia, including South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. However, it will take time to return to meaningful export levels in Asia."