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U.S., EU Express Concern to Japan Over Postal Expansion Plans

The U.S. and European Union remain concerned that Japan’s plan to let state-owned postal companies expand gives the businesses an unfair advantage, two ambassadors said today. Japan urged the U.S. to show restraint.

Michael Punke, U.S. ambassador to the World Trade Organization, and John Clarke, the EU’s charge d’affaires, said in a joint statement after meeting a Japanese official in Geneva that the plan to sell Japan Post Holdings Co. would subject the new state-owned company to less rigorous regulation.

“We strongly urge Japan to address our shared level playing field concerns and to live up to its WTO obligations as it proceeds with its postal reform legislation,” Clarke said in the statement after he and Punke met their Japanese counterpart, Shinichi Kitajima, to discuss the plan.

Legislation pending in Japan’s parliament would allow Japan Post to enter new lines of business while facing less stringent auditing and reporting requirements, according to the joint U.S.-EU statement. The plan would harm competitors to the Japan Post companies that sell similar products, the statement said.

“It would be best for the U.S. to show restraint in this matter,” Postal Reform Minister Shizuka Kamei said at a press briefing in Tokyo today before the Geneva meeting. It is “abnormal” to raise the issue at the WTO while legislation is still being considered by the parliament, Kamei said.

Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis said on April 7 that Japan’s postal companies may get an unfair advantage over U.S. lenders, insurers and express-delivery companies. Japan’s government sent its postal reform bill to parliament on April 30. Japanese banks also have criticized the legislation.

Bank Deposits

The proposed changes will let Japan Post Bank Co., already the world’s biggest bank by deposits, double the amount of savings it takes from individual customers, and may pave the way for it to expand into lending. Japan plans to keep at least a one-third stake in Japan Post Holdings after the changes.

Proposed reforms to Japan’s postal system will be carried out with due regard to maintaining fair competition and upholding international commitments, an official at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said today.

The U.S. decision to raise Japan postal reforms at the WTO “is not a positive development for U.S.-Japan relations,” said Kamei, who has not discussed the matter with Japan’s foreign ministry.

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