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Thursday, Feb. 5, 2009

Japan-U.S. FTA vital: ACCJ chief

Business lobby's new president promoting long-term multilevel exchanges to establish trade pact


Staff writer

Getting a free-trade agreement between Japan and the United States is a much-needed goal, but it will require close multilevel exchanges, according to a top executive of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

News photo
Bilateralism: Thomas W. Whitson, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, discusses the possibilities of a free-trade agreement Monday in Tokyo. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

Thomas Whitson, the new president of the ACCJ and a partner in the international public accounting giant KPMG FAS Co., stressed during an interview Monday in Tokyo that an FTA would benefit both nations.

"That is a goal . . . of the American Chamber on a long-term basis," said Whitson, though he's under no illusion a pact will be signed anytime soon.

The Illinois native, however, feels some momentum has been built up. "I am hoping that we will continue that momentum despite the economic situation."

Whitson proposed that Japan and the U.S. hold substantive, formal talks at various government levels.

He also said he doesn't expect the new administration of Barack Obama to take a protectionist stance.

He expressed hope that Obama and Prime Minister Taro Aso will nurture close ties similar to some of their predecessors, including George W. Bush and Junichiro Koizumi or Ronald Reagan and Yasuhiro Nakasone.

To get an FTA signed, Whitson said Cabinet ministers of both countries will need to hold formal talks at least once a year, along with the necessary working-level talks.

These exchanges would explore the issues, identify and solve obstacles, and implement measures.

"That is, I think, what it will take to get a free-trade agreement," Whitson said.

The ACCJ currently has about 20 policy proposals, with information technology, communications and postal privatization some of the key areas the organization will focus on this year.

Commenting on Japan Post, Whitson said the deregulation and privatization process has been proceeding, and getting it started was a major achievement of the Koizumi administration.

However, he said there is a concern the momentum for reform may fade away.

"We really think it should (continue) because Japan Post is very important," Whitson said. "Is it competing fairly with other organizations in the economy that provide similar services?"

The ACCJ has urged the government to make sure private-sector firms will be able to compete on an equal footing with Japan Post, which was reorganized in October 2007 as part of a 10-year privatization process.



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