View From Tokyo: MITI goes on the offensive

MEANWHILE, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry continues to go on the offensive against US critics of Japan's allegedly closed economy.

Last month it released its Report on Unfair Trade Policies by Major Trading Partners, which attempted to show that the US, not Japan, was the main offender in keeping its markets closed to foreign firms by a series of restrictive measures. Now MITI has come out with another combative report, this time on the sensitive issue of keiretsu, the informal grouping of companies which supposedly precludes outside competition.

According to the report, Japanese keiretsu are far more open than foreign critics maintain. And, what is more, the report claims that keiretsu are not unique to Japan but exist in Western economies as well.

The report identifies three types. Vertical keiretsu, in which a large manufacturer dominates a string of smaller suppliers, are not closed systems, it says, because many suppliers work for more than one parent and new suppliers are not excluded.

Horizontal keiretsu, in which companies are linked by strategic cross-shareholdings, are equally friendly to doing business with outsiders, it claims. And distribution keiretsu, in which large manufacturers dominate retail outlets for their own interests, are found in the US and Europe.

In fact, says the report, the links between industry and banks in Germany or between conglomerates and holding companies in the US are just the same as keiretsu. So, notwithstanding Japan's dollars 100bn trade surplus, what is all the fuss about?