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US Agrees to Improve Health Safeguards in Beef Exports to Japan

The United States agrees to increase health safeguards on U.S. beef shipments to Japan, and Japan's household assets grow to a record high.

The United States has agreed to implement additional measures to ensure that banned animal parts will not be find their way into future beef shipments to Japan. Japan closed its market to U.S. beef for a second time in January after spinal bones were found in a shipment. The bones are considered a possible source of mad cow disease.

Chuck Lambert, U.S. undersecretary of agriculture for marketing and regulatory programs, held two days of talks with Japanese government officials about the safety of the system the United States uses to inspect beef.

Lambert later said further talks are needed before the U.S. beef industry can resume imports to Japan, which were initially stopped in 2003 after an animal in one U.S. herd was found to have mad cow disease. He said the U.S. agreed to improve the training of workers who examine beef for export at U.S. packing plants.

"We were very confident that the criteria that we use to evaluate those plants were adequate at the time they were implemented, but we learn as we go along, and in retrospect, there is some additional measures that we agreed to that will strengthen the program and ensure the plant is doing what they have committed to do," said Lambert.

While the two countries talked about beef, the Bank of Japan said the financial assets controlled by Japanese households grew to its highest level on record. In 2005, assets increased by $666 billion compared with a year earlier. The biggest increase was in stocks, bonds and investment trusts.

Economists said this is a positive sign for the Japanese economy.

And in another sign of Japan's rising economic strength, the Nikkei stock index went above 17,000, its highest level since September of 2000. Technology and banking stocks led the rise.

And Japan's Nissan Motor Company plans to start selling its luxury Infiniti cars in Russia this summer.

Nissan, Japan's second-largest auto maker, will open three Infiniti dealerships in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia's leading cities. The company said it is also considering building an assembly plant in Russia.

Nissan considers Russia an important market. It already has 40 dealerships selling it lower-priced models.