In a risk assessment released Monday, Japan’s Food Safety Commission recommended that the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) change the country’s age limit on U.S. beef imports to 30 months, from the current 20 months or younger. As Asia’s largest beef importer, this decision has the potential to expand opportunities for U.S. beef exporters. The Commission may also recommend adopting a revised specified risk material (SRM) definition based on World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines.

Before going into effect, the MHLW will need to take additional actions, including a public comment period.

The development is promising and could set in motion actions to increase Japanese purchases of U.S. beef significantly. Japan originally imposed a ban on American beef following the 2003 discovery of the first BSE case in the U.S. The country resumed limited purchases from the U.S. in 2005 on condition that the meat must come from cattle at the age of 20 months or younger.

In the first half of 2012, Japan imported 240,815 tons of beef, with 245 coming from the U.S. Australia was the largest supplier with 153,938 tons.