Several congressmen and businessmen yesterday questioned the government's implementation of a hard-fought agreement opening up $3.3 billion a year in trade with Japan's Nippon Telegraph and Telephone public corporation.
Rep. Tim Wirth (D-Colo.), expressing concern over whether the agreement will be implemented properly, asked representatives of the Commerce Department and the U.S. Trade Representative's Office which department would be monitoring the agreement. Assistant U.S. Trade Representative W. Douglas Newkirk and Assistant Commerce Secretary Raymond J. Waldmann both said their departments are working on it.
Wirth asked Waldmann if Commerce had set up a special trading course for Commerce officials following the Nippon agreement signed last December. Waldmann said a course has been set up but that it covers not only the Nippon phone agreement but the entire multilateral trade negotiations agreement.
In testimony, testifying before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on telecommunications, neither Waldmann nor Newkirk could say how much Japanese telecommunications equipment U.S. firms buy from the Japanese because of the way government figures are kept.
Rep. James H. Scheuer (D-N.Y.) said perhaps Congress should ask the Commerce Department to begin keeping more trade-related telecommunications data.
The three-year agreement, signed last December, ended five years of discussions between the United States and Japan on government procurement policies and particularly on purchases by NTT. It is part of the government procurement code fashioned during the Tokyo round of the MTN and was considered a breakthrough into one of Japan's most important and closely protected markets.
The agreement doesn't automatically assure U.S. companies a share of Japan's government purchases, but it does give them a chance to compete for the contracts. At the time of the signing, U.S. Trade Representative Reubin Askew said that "from a long-range perspective" no other trade issue "is more important to the United States than inclusion of NTT purchases under the requirements of the government procurement code."
So far, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo has been instructed to send pertinent information on NTT bidding to Washington. They are reviewed by officials of the Commerce and State departments and the Trade Repesentative's Office, Newkirk said.
The government also will monitor efforts of American firms to sell to NTT and any complaints they might have about the Japanese, Newkirk said.
"At the present time we have no basis to judge how successful the NTT agreement will be," Newkirk said. "Japan's fiscal year and therefore NTT's purchasing cycle only began in April. However, to date NTT has done as much and sometimes more than is required by the agreement."
John Sodolski, vice president of the Electronic Industry Association, said it was unclear which federal agency was taking the lead role in monitoring the agreement. He said the feeling within the industry is that the responsibility for monitoring the agreement should be with those who negotiated it, in this case the U.S. trade representative.