Japanese imports of U.S. beef totaled only 105 tonnes in August, the first full month of shipments since Tokyo reopened the market to meat from the United States, government data showed on Thursday.
That figure marks a plunge from the 22,000-25,000 tonnes of U.S. beef that industry officials say Japan was importing each month in 2003 before it imposed a ban following the discovery of a case of mad-cow disease in the United States.
Tokyo briefly lifted the ban at the end of last year, but closed its borders again about a month later in January when inspectors found forbidden meat parts in a U.S. shipment.
Japan imported about 41 tonnes of U.S. beef in December and 623 tonnes in January before the ban was reimposed.
Industry officials have said that U.S. beef will only make a gradual return to the Japanese market partly due to the lack of sufficient volumes of meat that meets Tokyo's requirements.
Philip Seng, president of the U.S. Meat Export Federation, said on September 20 that Japan's purchase of U.S. beef will likely be a modest 15,000 tonnes this year.
Japan was once the top importer of U.S. beef, buying 240,000 tonnes valued at $1.4 billion in 2003. That accounted for nearly 30 percent of total beef supplies in Japan.
Australia has since stepped in to fill the shortfall.
Tokyo agreed to resume imports of U.S. beef in late July on condition that the meat only comes from cattle aged up to 20 months. All specified risk material must also be eliminated.
Washington is pressing Japan to relax the rules so that it is in line with an international standard that allows trade in boneless beef from animals aged up to 30 months.
Japan's new Agriculture Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka told reporters on Wednesday that he did not plan to begin discussing the U.S. proposal later this year.
He said it was up to the United States to convince Japanese consumers they are meeting the necessary safety standards.
Deep-seated doubts about the safety of U.S. beef are prompting many leading Japanese supermarkets to refrain from immediately offering such products at its stores, adding to slow sales.
Japan's Yoshinoya D&C Co. Ltd. , however, has trumpeted the return of U.S. beef in a media campaign announcing that it is once again offering its flagship dish of beef and onions on rice. The company had stopped offering the product after the ban.