• Kyodo


Japan and the United States are in the final phase of talks aimed at setting up a new vice-ministerial-level panel, tentatively called the trade commission, officials close to the preparatory talks said Thursday.

The commission will hold periodic bilateral discussions on key trade issues related to automobiles, agricultural products and other major trade items.

The two governments may also create several subcommittees to discuss issues related to deregulation, direct investment in Japan and macroeconomic policies.

The panel is expected to be finalized when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi travels to the U.S. in late June or early July for a summit with President George W. Bush.

The committees would engage in a series of comprehensive structural trade talks that were being pushed while Bush’s father, former President George Bush was in office.

Japan and the U.S. shared a joint trade commission from 1981 until the election of former U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1992, when the commission’s activities were halted.

The new panel will likely address such thorny trade issues as automobile commerce, trade in sheet glass and the wisdom of imposing emergency “safeguard” import curbs. Japan in 1999 rejected a U.S. request to extend a Japan-U.S. auto trade pact.

The two governments have already held two rounds of vice-ministerial-level talks to reconcile their differences prior to the convention of the Japan-U.S. summit meeting.

The talks are expected to focus on global trade issues such as launching a new round of trade liberalization talks under the World Trade Organization, in addition to other bilateral trade issues such as information technology and telecommunications, they said.

Howard Baker, the new U.S. ambassador to Tokyo, also said Wednesday that Washington will attempt to further pry open the Japanese market and encourage economic growth while seeking to deepen security dialogue.

Baker, a former Republican Senate majority leader and White House chief of staff, made the comments during a Senate hearing on his nomination, which was confirmed by the Senate later in the day.

Analysts said as the U.S. government is concerned about chronic bilateral trade deficits — particularly in light of the slowing U.S. economy — they favor an established venue in which to address their trade problems.

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