The United States may file a fresh complaint with the Office of Trade and Investment Ombudsman of Japan as early as next month regarding motorcycle regulations that it says hamper sales of imported vehicles, a U.S. government official said July 22.
Headed by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, the ombudsman office, known as the OTO, is a governmental body that mediates grievances over trade matters. The petition would include requests to abolish such regulations as the ban on tandem riding on expressways and the 80 kph speed limit for motorcycles. The speed limit on expressways for four-wheel vehicles, excluding large trucks and minicars, is 100 kph.
“These restrictions are eliminating the ability of the U.S. motorcycle industry to sell their products freely,” the U.S. official said. He said it is still not clear whether the grievance will be filed by the U.S. Embassy or the local affiliate of Harley Davidson, the only major U.S. motorcycle manufacturer, or some other sources.
Japanese motorcyclists’ associations, as well as domestic motorbike makers, have long been campaigning the National Police Agency to change such regulations. The U.S. is coordinating its planned action with the riders’ groups and the Japanese makers, the official said.
An OTO spokesman said once the grievance is filed, the ombudsman body, composed of 12 experts on international economics and trade, will send the case to the NPA and urge it to exchange opinions on the matter with the U.S. Embassy. The U.S. move would be a followup to a petition brought to the OTO in 1993 by the U.S. Embassy. The same two requests regarding speed limits and tandem riding were made in that petition, but negotiations with the NPA ran into a roadblock due to insufficient information from both parties.
“We are focusing on this issue because it’s so obvious and easier to solve compared to other deregulation issues we’ve been addressing to the Japanese government,” the official said. “This motorcycle issue is a symbol of whether or not the Japanese are being honest when they are saying that they will harmonize with the rules of the rest of the world. They have a rule (on tandem riding) that doesn’t exist anywhere else.”
NPA officials insist that the regulations are necessary to prevent an increase in motorcycle-related deaths. They have also cited differences in traffic conditions on Japanese expressways and those of other countries, such as narrower road widths and tighter curves.
In addition to the issues of tandem riding and speed limits, the 1993 petition questioned Japan’s motorcycle licensing system, under which riders at private driving schools were unable to get licenses for motorbikes with engines larger than 401cc.