US-Japan shipping dispute nears deal

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The Independent Online
American and Japanese negotiators reported yesterday that they were close to an agreement to resolve a tense trade dispute that has led the United States to threaten to bar Japanese cargo ships from American ports.

"We have achieved a breakthrough which we hope will lead to an agreement," the US Under-Secretary of State, Stuart Eizenstat, told reporters. The Japanese Ambassador, Kunihiko Saito, said: "I think we have succeeded in resolving most of our outstanding problems. There are still a few details to be worked out."

Both sides urged the Federal Maritime Commission to lift its ban on Japanese ships, that had been scheduled to take effect at midnight. Officials at the Maritime Commission had no immediate comment but it was highly likely that they would go along with the deal reached by top negotiators from the Clinton administration.

The announcement came after a morning of high-level talks between officials from both countries eager to avert a disruption of billions of dollars in trade between the world's two largest economies.

Mr Eizenstat said he believed that the tentative deal could lead to "meaningful reform" in Japanese port practices which US shippers have long complained discriminate against them. Officials at the commission said a meeting was under way to determine what should be done. However, they said the letters directing the Coastguard to bar Japanese cargo ships had not yet been sent. -- AP