• Kyodo

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Japan and the United States wrapped up two days of deregulation talks Friday without progress in such key areas as access charges for telephone networks and airport landing fees in Japan.

U.S. officials expressed strong disappointment and one hinted that Washington may bring up access charges with the World Trade Organization.

In the high-level meeting, the U.S. voiced concerns over Japan’s plan to allow NTT East Corp. and NTT West Corp. to raise charges to other carriers for access to their phone lines.

“We strongly urged Japan to reconsider its regulators’ proposal to raise wire line interconnection rates,” Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Jon Huntsman said at a news conference after the meeting.

He also opposed Japan’s plan to allow the two NTT units to maintain a uniform access rate, regardless of their business conditions.

Another official said the NTT access rate issue “certainly would become a focal point in subsequent bilateral talks.”

Asked about the possibility of bringing the case to the WTO, the official said, “We’d have to say that we keep all options on the table.”

Japan also rejected U.S. calls for reductions in airport landing fees.

“We are pushing this year for improvement in landing fees at Narita and Kansai international airports and we saw no progress there,” Huntsman said.

At a separate media briefing, a Japanese official said that if landing fees, taxes and other costs are included, the per-passenger cost at the main Japanese airports is not necessarily expensive, compared with New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and London’s Heathrow.

Huntsman represented the U.S. at the meeting, while Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Affairs Ichiro Fujisaki led the Japanese delegation.

On Japan’s plan to create special deregulation zones in local communities, Huntsman said measures to be adopted in planned zones should lead to nationwide deregulation.

He also called for no discrimination between Japanese and foreign companies in the zones.

At the deregulation talks, Japan turned down U.S. calls for establishing a prime minister’s council on comprehensive health care reform where foreign firms can present and discuss ideas.

There are ministry advisory panels to discuss the issue, and it is not appropriate to create a similar panel, the Japanese official said.

The U.S. praised Japan’s plan to extend the copyright protection term for movies from 50 years to 70 years, and called for taking similar steps for other products such as music compact disks.

Japan for its part asked the U.S. to make efforts to restore public confidence in liberalization of the electricity market, which has been hurt by the accounting scandal of failed U.S. energy giant Enron Corp. and electricity shortages in California.

Japan and the U.S. are to submit a report on the results of their deregulation talks to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and President George W. Bush when they meet in France in early June on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit.

The two countries are scheduled to hold another high-level meeting in Tokyo in mid-May.

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