WASHINGTON (AP)--U.S. and Japanese officials will hold more talks on Japan's refusal to accept U.S. beef exports, but the two nations are still divided over Japan's contention that the United States does not test adequately for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy.

During the April 24 and 25 meetings, the United States intends to push its proposal for international mediation on the ban, U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Alisa Harrison said April 13.

Japan so far has refused to accept the U.S. plan for both nations to present arguments before a panel of the World Organization for Animal Health. The United States wants mediators to support its testing standards as scientifically sound and to press the Japanese to end their ban.

J.B. Penn, undersecretary for foreign agricultural services, will lead the U.S. team, which may also include representatives of the State Department and the U.S. Trade Representative's office, Harrison said.

The dates for the new talks were set during Vice President Dick Cheney's visit to Tokyo, the first stop on his current weeklong trip to Asia, Harrison said. The talks had been in the planning stages before the visit, she said. The meetings would continue U.S.-Japanese consultations that began shortly after the one U.S. case of mad cow disease was found in a Holstein in Washington state in December.

In announcing the new talks, Cheney said he hoped they would lead to reopening the Japanese market "in the near future." But Tadashi Sato, agricultural attache at the Japanese embassy in Washington, said he has heard of no change in the Japanese stance. He also said Japan always is willing to talk with U.S. officials.

Japan refuses to accept any U.S. beef unless the United States requires mad cow tests of all 35 million cattle it slaughters annually. The United States says there is no scientific reason to test every animal. It intends to test at least 220,000 by the end of 2005.

Japan had been one America's leading buyers of beef before the discovery of the U.S. case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. More than 50 other nations also banned U.S. beef or cattle, and most have kept their bans in place. People who eat beef tainted by the aberrant protein that causes mad cow can contract a rare but fatal disease, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

One exception to the international refusals to ease bans on U.S. exports is Mexico, which has decided to accept about three-quarters of the approximately $1 billion of U.S. products it imported in 2003. Mexico will allow imports of boneless cuts of beef, certain organ meats, tallow and veal.

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