The Japanese government will ease restrictions on US beef imports in a move that US officials said will pave the way for “expanded exports” to the country.

According to a new agreement between the US and Japan, the latter will allow beef imports from cattle less than 30 months old.

Japan had banned imports of US beef in 2003, when BSE was found in the US herd. In 2006, the country lifted the ban to allow the import of US beef to products derived from cattle under 20 months in age.

Responding to the news, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that the fresh agreement, which comes into effect on Firday (1 February), would open the door to “hundreds of millions” of dollars-worth of US beef exports.

“We will continue our efforts to break down barriers and expand access for high-quality, safe and wholesome US food and agricultural products to Japan and around the world,” Vilsack commented.

US trade representative Ron Kirk added: “This is great news for American ranchers and beef companies, who can now – as a result of this agreement – increase their exports of US beef to their largest market for beef in Asia.”