The United States is seeking concessions in six areas related to automobiles in preliminary talks to determine if Japan should be allowed to take part in negotiations to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal.
Central government officials presented the list of items to be reviewed at a June 1 meeting of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan's project team on economic partnerships.
Six broad areas were cited: transparency; distribution; technological standards; certification procedures; new and eco-friendly technologies; and the tax system for automobiles.
Japan would be hard-pressed to offer concessions in any of those areas, partly due to the fact that the United States has not yet made specific requests for changes. The situation will likely lead to more difficult negotiations.
In the area of technological standards, for example, each nation has different safety standards. Thus, it would be difficult for Japan to allow U.S. standards to apply here.
In the area of transparency, U.S. officials have asked for greater transparency in regulations related to the automobile sector, as well as the process by which those regulations are made.
However, a Japanese government source said, "There have been no specific proposals or suggestions about how they want those changes to be made."
Similar circumstances surround the items for the tax system and distribution.
The United States is apparently asking Japan to review its tax regulations, which differ depending on engine displacement.
Minicars, for example, which the United States does not manufacture, are taxed at a lower rate.
Regarding Japan's distribution network, U.S. officials are likely to argue that the need to construct a sales and service network in Japan serves as a barrier to U.S. automakers who want to sell their models in Japan.
Sources involved in the negotiations added that there were other more detailed requests made by the United States, with some areas having more than one request.
Japanese officials seem to be unsure if these are conditions the United States is placing on Japan in order to allow it to participate in TPP negotiations or simply ideas that are being tossed around in negotiations.
Japanese responses would also differ depending on how strongly the United States feels about the individual requests.
"It appears the U.S. government is searching for material it can use to convince U.S. business sectors that are opposed to Japanese participation in the TPP," said one source.
While Japan is expected to formally announce its intention to join the TPP talks after concluding the preliminary negotiations with the United States and other participants, the difficulty of those negotiations now makes it unclear when such an announcement can be made.
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