Tokyo to cancel telecom talks

Deferred dialogue may come back to haunt G8 summit

Japan plans to cancel high-level deregulation talks with the United States set for next week in Washington, Foreign Ministry sources said Friday, making it virtually impossible to solve the telecom row before the two nations’ leaders meet May 5.

The talks, scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, were intended to break a deadlock over the issue of cutting interconnection fees charged by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. to its competitors before the meeting between Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and President Bill Clinton.

Japan is not ready to negotiate on the access charge issue with the U.S. because a telecommunications bill related to NTT’s interconnection fees is still being deliberated in the Diet, the sources said.

Mori, during the summit in Washington, is likely to offer Clinton a plan aimed at breaking the impasse, but the two leaders will probably be unable to settle the issue, the sources said.

The issue, therefore, may become a top priority agenda item at another meeting between the two leaders, to be held on the sidelines of the July 21-23 Group of Eight summit in Okinawa.

Japan has proposed cutting the interconnection fees by 22.5 percent over four years, but the U.S. has demanded a deeper cut, preferably 50 percent, over two years.

Washington has long stressed that the interconnection fees levied by NTT are 4.5 times those of U.S. local carriers and four times those of European firms.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed the bill to revise the Telecommunications Business Law and sent it on to the House of Councilors.

A specific range for the cut will be set in an ordinance to be issued by the Posts and Telecommunications Ministry, ministry officials said.

However, the bill may limit the range of the cut because a supplementary resolution attached to it says “note should be taken that (the planned cut) will not adversely affect the management of NTT East and NTT West as well as subscriber charges.”

Japan and the U.S. failed to resolve the telecom issue by the end of March, when they planned to compile a joint report on bilateral deregulation initiatives.

The Foreign Ministry apparently had hoped to achieve an early resolution to the access charge issue when it scheduled the May high-level talks.

The ministry does not want the issue to overshadow the Okinawa summit, where the G8 leaders plan to discuss the impact of the information technology revolution on the international community.

However, Posts and Telecommunications Ministry officials are reluctant to hold negotiations with the U.S. next week before the passage of the telecom bill in the Upper House.

Politicians in the ruling bloc also oppose holding the negotiations while the Diet is deliberating the bill.

Fukaya free-trade tour

Minister of International Trade and Industry Takashi Fukaya said Friday that he will leave for a weeklong Asian tour Sunday in a bid to promote free trade, electronic commerce and other information technology-related industries.

In bilateral meetings with key Asian ministers, Fukaya will promote Japan’s role in facilitating dialogue between Asia, the United States and the European Union to swiftly launch the new round of World Trade Organization-led trade liberalization negotiations.

Fukaya plans to visit Myanmar, Singapore and India.

He will also attend the first joint meeting between economic ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their counterparts from Japan, China and South Korea on Tuesday in Yangon before visiting Singapore and India to hold bilateral meetings with their leaders.

Fukaya will be the first trade chief to visit Myanmar in 20 years and the first Japanese Cabinet member to do so in 17 years. He said his visit is primarily to attend the ASEAN-plus-three meeting and that there is no specific agenda planned for his meeting with Myanmar’s leader, Than Shwe.

Fukaya said the ASEAN-plus-three meeting is likely to focus on multilateral economic frameworks, such as the WTO and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, as well as following on from the preceding meeting in November.

Later Tuesday, Fukaya will separately meet with his ASEAN counterparts to discuss a Japan-ASEAN action plan to resuscitate the regional economy. The plan was endorsed at last year’s summit meetings between Japan and ASEAN.

He will then fly to Singapore for a meeting Thursday with Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Minister for Trade and Industry George Yeo to discuss the two nations’ ongoing joint study on a bilateral free-trade agreement.

In Delhi on Friday, Fukaya will discuss the new round of WTO talks, expansion of Japanese investment in India and bilateral cooperation in the IT sector with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Minister for Commerce and Industry Murasoli Maran.

Fukaya will be the first Japanese Cabinet member to visit India since that country defied international protests and conducted nuclear tests in May 1998.

Fukaya stressed the importance of opening discussions with Asian countries on promoting e-commerce and related regulatory frameworks.

He said he intends to listen to any suggestions his counterparts may have on improving the WTO, rather than dictating Japan’s opinions to them.