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What if Japan opened a market to the U.S. and nobody came? That's precisely what's happening with Japan's lucrative public-works sector, which Tokyo has promised to make more accessible to American companies. With Japanese support, the American Bar Assn. had planned to hold a seminar in Washington this fall to show American companies how to crack the recently deregulated construction industry. The list of speakers included Makoto Taketoshi, a top official at the Construction Ministry, as well as leading Japanese business executives and U.S. trade advisers. But the red-faced sponsors were forced to call the conference off at the last minute. The reason: Not a single American construction-related company signed up.


Bowing to complaints from Corporate America, the Clinton Administration is softening some proposed reforms intended to curb a growing deficit faced by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which insures more than 66,000 benefit plans. Under a compromise worked out with business groups, the Administration has agreed to drop a provision that would allow the PBGC to challenge mergers or asset sales of publicly traded companies with underfunded pensions. Also, lower interest-rate assumptions that companies must use to project returns on plan investments will be phased in over five years rather than imposed immediately. Congress is expected to ratify the changes in a post-election session.

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