A U.S. lawmaker urged President Barack Obama's administration on Wednesday to bring a World Trade Organization case against Japan if it does not open up its cash-for-clunkers renewal program to American cars.
"We cannot sit idly by while we play by the rules and allow the Japanese cash-for-clunkers program to continue to discriminate against our American manufacturers and workers," Representative Betty Sutton, an Ohio Democrat, told reporters.
"That's why I introduced a resolution yesterday that calls for the U.S. Trade Representative to immediately initiate discussions with the government of Japan to identify and remedy violations of Japan's trade obligations," Sutton said.
If those talks fail, the United States should file a formal complaint at the WTO, she said.
Sutton released a Dec. 17 letter from U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who said the United States was concerned about a recent drop in U.S. auto sales to Japan and had urged Tokyo to give American cars more opportunity to qualify for its fleet renewal program.
"We will continue to press Japan on this point ... particularly in light of the possibility that Japan may extend its purchase incentive program beyond its current termination date of March 31, 2010," Kirk said.
USTR spokeswoman Nefeterius McPherson said Japan has agreed to continue to talk with the United States about its concerns.
"We hope to find a way forward through these discussions," McPherson said. "Our position remains that changes are necessary to give U.S. vehicles greater opportunity to qualify under Japan's program," she said.
U.S. automakers Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and Chrysler sent Kirk a letter in December complaining that Japan's incentive program effectively barred U.S. firms from participating.
In contrast, the U.S. cash-for-clunkers program was open to all auto manufacturers doing business in the United States, said Sutton, a driving force behind the legislation to encourage consumers to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Japanese brand autos accounted for almost half of the 677,842 vehicles sold under the $3 billion U.S. program, which ran from late July to late August.
Sutton said it was "too early to say" whether Congress would revive the cash-for-clunker program in 2010.
"I think it's an open question," she said.
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