The head of the American Auto Manufacturers Association expressed strong concern July 17 that Tokyo is not putting enough effort into opening Japan’s automobile market.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Tokyo, AAMA President Andrew Card said trade figures are now reaching a “politically unstable and unsustainable level,” noting that concerns are especially strong in the U.S. auto industry. His speech came the same day that the Japanese government released the latest trade figures showing that Japanese auto exports to the U.S. rose 32.7 percent in the first half of 1997 from a year earlier, while U.S. exports to Japan fell 28.3 percent.

Card said that the association filed a request last week with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative asking that Japan be placed on the watch list for possible application of the Super 301 unfair trade practices provision. The USTR will make a final decision on the request by the end of September, he said.

“The trends in U.S.-Japan automotive trade are all headed in the wrong direction,” he said. “The Japanese government seems to be sliding effortlessly into its old pattern of pursuing export-led growth and appears unwilling or unable to take seriously its commitment to pro-active market opening, which was expected under the 1995 (auto and auto parts) agreement.”

The 1995 U.S.-Japan agreement on auto and auto parts calls for improving foreign access to the Japanese auto market and easing regulations over auto parts. Along with the agreement, the U.S. government announced its own expectation that the number of dealers handling foreign cars in Japan would increase by 200 by the end of 1996.

Only 126 new high-volume outlets have signed franchise agreements with GM, Ford, or Chrysler since the 1995 bilateral agreement, Card said. “Japan’s export machine,” he said, “remains in overdrive posting record gains month after month, particularly in the auto sector … (with) no signs of moderation in this trend.”

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