Japan and the United States held “sincere and constructive” discussions Sept. 9 on extending a bilateral accord on procurement by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp., government officials from both sides said.

The two sides agreed to hold another working level meeting in Washington later this month to reach a definite conclusion by Sept. 30, when the existing agreement is due to expire, they said. However, subtle differences appear to remain concerning the kinds of conclusions they hope to reach then.

During the meeting, the two sides put forward their proposals for improving the existing agreement, and neither side brought up the possibility of terminating it. The U.S. delegation was headed by Byron Sigel, deputy assistant U.S. trade representative for Japan, while Koji Tsuruoka, chief of the Foreign Ministry’s Second North America Division, represented Japan. A representative of NTT also attended.

As the U.S. side came out of the negotiation room at the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, they said they were hoping to reach a consensus on time. They said they presented proposals to improve transparency in NTT’s procurement procedures and that they are carefully examining those put forth by Japan. The Japanese side, meanwhile, remains unclear on its stance.

During a news conference earlier in the day, Hisao Horinouchi, the posts and telecommunications minister, said, “It would be very difficult to terminate the agreement because the Japanese government holds two thirds of the NTT shares.” But Japanese negotiators told reporters that they have yet to agree to extend the agreement.

“We put forward our proposals for improving the existing agreement, not based on our decision, but on an assumed premise of extending the agreement,” said an official at the Posts and Telecommunications Ministry. “We don’t think what we’re saying is contradictory to what the minister said,” he added.

The NTT procurement agreement was first signed in 1980 and has since been extended five times, most recently in 1994. It calls for improving transparency in NTT’s procurement procedures so that foreign suppliers have a fair chance to present their products.

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