Japan has agreed to lift its ban on Irish beef imports with immediate effect.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the move could be worth €15 million a year and there is great potential in the Japanese market.

He said Japanese scientists are happy with the competency, standards and professionalism that exists in the Irish market.

The ban was imposed in 2000 due to the outbreak of BSE.

Japan is one of the world's biggest importers of beef and Ireland is now one of three European countries with access to the Japanese market.

Irish Farmers' Association president John Bryan said the move followed years of negotiations and work by the Department of Agriculture and An Bord Bia.

He said it sent a strong signal to other markets that Irish "beef adheres to the highest standards in the world".

Mr Kenny has also extended an invitation to Crown Prince Naruhito to visit Ireland in 2017, which is the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The Taoiseach is on a five-day visit to Japan, with the focus on enhancing trade and investment opportunities with the world's third largest economy.

The delegation includes Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney.

Mr Coveney said that the decision over Irish beef imports was very significant.

He said: "Japan is a sophisticated market with sophisticated consumers,  who are seeking a beef product which Ireland can provide."

President of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association John Comer said it was another "substantial step forward" for the Irish beef sector and the wider agri-food sector.

However, Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association president Gabriel Gilmartin said while the additional revenue of up to €15m for the beef industry was welcome, it is not enough to make a significant impact on beef prices in the coming months.

He said while the announcement sends out a positive signal, the meat industry must build on it to deliver better prices.