LONDON (AP) _ Agriculture Minister Nick Brown on Wednesday threatened to sue France if it does not agree in the next few days to lift a 3 1/2-year ban on British beef imports, but he remained cautiously optimistic that the dispute would be resolved.

Brown will meet Friday with French and European Union officials to review five key elements of Britain's beef safety measures. The talks will focus on traceability, testing, derived products, controls and labeling.

``(We) can draw this issue to conclusion within a matter of days and we can toast that outcome with a glass of French champagne, but we are not there yet,'' Brown said in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

But, he said, ``clearly if this isn't going to work the commission will have to take the legal route.''

EU Consumer Affairs Commissioner David Byrne, meanwhile, said he has asked France and Britain to end the crisis by Nov. 16, saying consumer confidence in British beef needs to be restored quickly.

In August, the EU lifted a worldwide ban on the export of British beef that had been imposed in 1996 because of fears that what is commonly called ``mad cow disease'' could be linked to a similar brain-wasting disease in humans.

The French unilaterally imposed their own ban Oct. 1, claiming they had new evidence that British beef was unsafe. An EU scientific advisory committee ruled Friday that France had no scientific justification for continuing the ban.

French Agriculture Minister Jean Glavany told the National Assembly in Paris on Wednesday that he was eager to end the dispute with Britain. But, Glavany added, France did not seek progress ``at any price, particularly if the nation's health is at stake.''