TOKYO (AP) — Japan is relaxing restrictions on U.S. beef imports that had been in place due to fears of mad-cow disease.

The Foreign Ministry announced Monday that Japan and the United States have agreed that imports of beef from cows up to 30 months old will be allowed, up from the current 20-month age limit, effective Feb. 1.

The change matches international standards and applies to beef imports from the U.S., Canada, France and the Netherlands. It is expected to cover 90 percent of beef processed in the U.S.

Japan's Health Ministry had approved the step following public hearings.

Japan banned U.S. beef imports in 2003 after the fatal brain disease was discovered there. In 2005 Japan allowed imports of beef 20 months or younger.