Three days of vice-ministerial-level air talks ended in Tokyo on August 6 with the United States and Japan unable to produce signs of progress over expanding air services in the Asia-Pacific region, one of the most lucrative markets in the world.

Negotiators said it was unlikely that the two sides would be able to strike a deal by September, a goal that was agreed on at an unofficial meeting last month in Portland, Ore. “Frankly, I feel it will be difficult to reach an accord in September. … The fact that we started official negotiations, which aim to strike a deal, in itself is quite meaningful,” said Hiromichi Toya, vice minister for international affairs at the Transport Ministry, during a press conference.

The negotiators did, however, agree to hold more meetings — a second formal round of negotiations slated for Aug. 27 to 29 in Washington D.C. “Although we developed bracketed text on certain issues, the two sides are still far apart. … The United States continues to advocate a transition to open skies,” said Alan Larson, U.S. assistant secretary of state.

Throughout the informal and formal negotiations with Japan, the U.S. has advocated an “open skies” policy that would fully liberalize the air services market. The U.S. has concluded open skies agreements with 25 countries, including five Asian nations.

Supported by its big domestic market, accounting for about one-third of the world market, and its powerful airline industry, the U.S. is pressing for the liberalization of air routes in two categories — one between the U.S. and Japan and the other between Japan and third nations, especially those in Asia, under the so-called “beyond rights.”

In contrast, Japan demands a step-by-step approach toward what it terms “more liberalized” air services by first concluding a transitional accord for the next three to four years and reviewing it in the near future.

The crucial difference between the two sides is whether or not setting the goal of the liberalization after about four years should be covered by a transitional agreement. Japan, which recently started deregulations in the domestic air market, is eager to rectify inequalities that arose from a 1952 bilateral aviation treaty.

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