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A U.S. commerce official on Thursday expressed strong dissatisfaction over a “disproportionate share of cutbacks” in contracts awarded to foreign firms in the Japanese public works market.

Speaking to reporters at the American Embassy following the end of two days of U.S.-Japanese construction talks in Tokyo, Marjory E. Searing, U.S. acting assistant secretary of commerce, said the latest round of talks “can only be described as a disappointment.”

The two-day meeting was held to review the bilateral construction arrangements set in 1994 and 1991.

Searing said U.S. design and construction firms have managed to win only $50 million in contracts over the past year, about half of the $100 million garnered the previous year.

“We recognized that the $250 billion construction market in Japan contracted slightly during the past year, but we were still stunned to see foreign firms shoulder such a disproportionate share of cutbacks,” she said.

The period over which the calculation was made was not specified. Outside Japan, U.S. firms have about a 20 percent share, demonstrating their ability to compete, she said.

Foreign Ministry officials said the U.S. calculation for the past 12 months differs from its own calculations. They said the amount of contracts secured by U.S. firms dropped substantially because U.S. firms won big projects in April and May last year, which were not included in the latest figure by the U.S.

By Japan’s calculation, the amount of projects won by U.S. firms rose to 5.6 billion yen in fiscal 1997 from 3.2 billion yen in fiscal 1996, the officials said.

During the negotiations, the U.S. demanded that Japan relax its rule on the number of firms that can participate in a joint venture. The Japanese government’s operational guidelines allow no more than three firms in a joint venture, making it very difficult for foreign firms to get in, Searing said.

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