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U.S. criticizes Japan on trade imbalance

U.S. officials engaged in trade negotiations with Japan said Thursday that country has not done enough to address the underlying causes of the persistent U.S.-Japan trade imbalance. At the conclusion of the first of two days of talks, U.S. delegates complained that Japan's plans to help ease its $49-billion trade surplus with the United States "hadn't gone as far as we hoped."

In particular, Japan is moving too slowly in changing its high savings and investment rates, land policies, exclusionary business practices, inefficient retail distribution networks and pricing mechanisms, U.S. officials said.

"It is very important to note that some progress has been made. But frankly, much more needs to be done," said a member of the U.S. delegation, who briefed reporters on condition he not be identified by name.

On Friday, it is the United States' turn to explain what it is doing to change American practices that contribute to the imbalance. U.S. officials said they would outline Washington's plans to increase the low U.S. savings and investment rates and to bolster the competitiveness of American firms.

The talks, called the Structural Impediments Initiative, were launched last May after years of exchange rate adjustments and other steps failed to significantly reduce the imbalance.

This round of talks, originally set for early January, was postponed at Japan's request until after national parliamentary elections Sunday that kept the Liberal Democratic Party in power.

After the delay, U.S. officials said, they expected Japanese leaders to produce plans for both long-term measures and immediate actions to tackle structural trade problems.

U.S. trade negotiators are under heavy pressure to demonstrate progress in the talks to stave off protectionist trade legislation in Congress.

U.S. officials say Japan's high savings and investment rates, its land policies, exclusionary business practices, inefficient retail distribution networks and pricing mechanisms all indirectly restrain trade.

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