TOKYO -- Japan, the United States and Europe have laid the groundwork for a joint development of "intelligent" future manufacturing technologies, negotiators said.
As proposed by Japan, the project would develop and set standards for future technologies such as computer-controlled flexible factories that could shift products with a simple change in software programs.
A lack of standards in such technologies would make competition among suppliers difficult and complicate procurement for manufacturers, especially at overseas plants.
"This is the first time that this many countries have been represented ... in discussions about advanced manufacturing and how they can collaborate," a U.S. negotiator said. "We're very pleased with the amount of progress we made."
The three sides agreed in talks this week in Tokyo on basic principles for the project, called the Intelligent Manufacturing System, but did not set any concrete plans, the officials said.
U.S. officials said they now will explain the outcome of the talks to American industry.
"If it is the feeling of industry to go ahead, the next step would be to actually negotiate an agreement for the first phase" of the program, said a member of the U.S. delegation, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
Japan originated the project and offered to fund about 60 percent of its cost partly in response to charges that it has used foreign technology but contributed too little to world scientific knowledge. More than 80 Japanese companies and a number of American firms have expressed interest in the program.
But at a meeting in May, U.S. and European officials balked at adopting Japan's plan and demanded that preparation and control of the project be shared.
"The degree of skepticism has been reduced as a result of the dialogue," U.S. official said. He said most U.S. proposals were accepted by Japan and the European Community during the two-day discussions, which ended Tuesday.