In an apparent effort to nip another potential trade problem in the bud, Yoshifumi Tsuji, chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, Feb. 6 rebutted recent U.S. claims that the yen’s drop is helping Japanese automakers increase U.S.-bound exports, noting that Japanese exports actually appear to be declining.

“Japan’s exports of passenger cars to the U.S. between April 1996 and January this year rose only 0.3 percent, while European exports (during the same period) rose 16 percent,” Tsuji told a news conference. “It is true that Japanese brands’ share of the American passenger car market topped 30 percent (last year, for the first time since 1992) … but it is the locally produced vehicles that have increased and not the ones exported from Japan,” he said.

According to JAMA, the share of imported Japanese cars in the American passenger car market was 8.5 percent last year, down from 11.2 percent the previous year when the yen was much higher. Asked whether he plans to hold talks with the American Automobile Manufacturers Association before the auto issue becomes a matter of trade friction again, Tsuji said he believes there is no need to do so because he does not see any problem in the current situation.

He said Japan’s vehicle exports to the U.S. will decline in the future regardless of the exchange rate and will be replaced more and more by local production, stressing that Japanese exports should not be taken as any threat to the U.S. auto industry.

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