U.S.-Japan auto talks make little headway


GENEVA -- With pessimism reigning on both sides, the top trade negotiators from the United States and Japan began a last-minute attempt to reach an auto trade agreement before U.S. sanctions take effect after a deadline set for tomorrow.

Japanese Trade Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto compared the task facing the negotiators to scaling the nearby Swiss Alps.

"There are a lot of mountains in this country that are very difficult to climb," he said.

U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor gave Mr. Hashimoto, an amateur martial arts fighter, a "Kendo" stick as the two smiled and posed for photographers before starting an evening negotiating session.

Emerging after more than three hours of talks late yesterday, Mr. Kantor and Mr. Hashimoto joked about their testy personal relations, but gave little indication of progress.

"There is still distance to be covered between us," Mr. Hashimoto said.

Later, a senior U.S. official said the two men had a "serious in-depth discussion, but wide gaps remain on all the issues." The talks were set to continue this morning.

The U.S. has threatened to impose 100 percent tariffs on 13 models of Japanese car imports, valued at $5.9 billion last year, if an agreement isn't reached by tomorrow to further open Japan's auto and auto parts market. Mr. Kantor's chief deputy, Charlene Barshefsky, said in Washington earlier that there was "no chance" of extending the deadline.

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