Staff writer

Business leaders at the upcoming 35th Japan-U.S. Business Conference hope to skip the criticizing that has often dominated previous meetings.

This time, they will focus on cooperation through discussing mutual concerns, such as the Asian economic crisis and electronic commerce, rather than contentious bilateral trade disputes, says Minoru Makihara, chairman of the conference.

Chairman of Mitsubishi Corp., the London-born Makihara assumed the post last year when Yotaro Kobayashi, chairman of Fuji Xerox Co, stepped down.

The conference is scheduled to begin Sunday at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo and end Tuesday, with about 90 business leaders in attendance. First launched in 1961, the annual meeting has since served as an arena for candid discussion between U.S. and Japanese businesspeople, especially when important trade and economic issues arose.

The English proficiency and international background of the Harvard University graduate are likely to play an important role when he co-chairs the meeting with CBS Chairman Michael Jordan.

Makihara said Japan’s growing auto exports, often a major sticking point, will not be a major topic of discussion this year.

“That’s because Honda Motor Co., specifically, for example, produces more cars in the U.S.,” he said, stressing Japanese automakers’ efforts to expand local production in the U.S. over the past few years. Makihara said active discussions on the Asian economic crisis are expected because of its effect on the U.S. and Japan, whose exports to the region have been especially hard hit.

Participants will probably endorse the International Monetary Fund’s prescription for resolving the crisis and will also discuss extending further support to Asian countries either directly or through the Asian Development Bank and other international organizations, he said. “But in the end, the Japanese economy has to be strengthened,” Makihara said. “That’s probably the main contribution.”

According to Makihara, there is a consensus that Japan has to restore the health of its ailing banking sector and stimulate its depressed economy. Experts say that succeeding in these areas would create an economic tide that could rise throughout Asia. “I’m sure both sides will agree that fairly bold and decisive action has to be taken,” he said. “When it comes to what needs to be done, I think there will be lots of discussion.”

Of course, it is not easy to come up with a common position on every issue, one example being global warming, the chairman said.

As for electronic commerce, participants will be attempting to establish common rules for regulating the growing use of the cashless system and how the world will deal with it in a new technological era that has expanded with use of the Internet, Makihara said.

Both the U.S. and Japanese governments have agreed that this area should be dealt with primarily by the private sector, and a joint statement issued earlier this year at the Birmingham Group of Eight summit mentioned that one possible channel is the U.S.-Japan Business Conference.

To make e-commerce useful worldwide, international regulations regarding digital signatures, protection of personal data, tariffs and encryption need to be imposed, he said.

But setting those regulations is a difficult task, given the two sides’ varying stances on some issues.

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