Japanese government lawyers are considering ways to neutralize any possible move by the Bush administration to apply tough antitrust laws to Japanese corporations, a high-level official said Tuesday.
Noboru Hatakeyama, vice minister for international affairs at the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, said other governments around the world have lawyers doing the same thing. However, he said Japanese lawyers "have not reached any definite conclusions."It may be decided at some point, he implied, that Japanese authorities should refuse to submit documents likely to be sought by the U.S. Justice Department in such cases. He said Britain already had pointed out that its laws prohibit this type of cooperation.
"This is a rather complicated matter," he said. "As you know, in 1988, the United States decided not to take up such cases which might affect exporters in the United States."
But he said the Bush administration believes in the general principle that Washington's antitrust laws can apply outside U.S. territory if U.S. consumers are affected by alleged monopolistic operations of foreign corporations. "We don't have this type of principle," Mr. Hatakeyama said.
"We take the position, therefore, that even if consumers are affected, we have to reserve our position.
''Even if we admit the effect of such policies concerned U.S. consumers," he added, "we can't agree with that policy." He said this U.S. approach "is very unpopular with the ministry."
The U.S. government is serious about this concept, he said, but Washington will be cautious about applying antitrust laws to situations outside the country. The United States intends to respect international treaties, he added.
He said he believed the Justice Department, when applying the law, would take up these cases with subsidiaries or branch offices in the United States, ''which means they won't go to foreign countries."
Whatever happens, he said, "American antitrust laws should not be applied to Japanese subsidiaries in the United States, even though it would be natural for Washington's laws to be applied to such subsidiaries or branch offices if they did something wrong" within the country.
If these subsidiaries did something wrong, they should be judged by Japanese authorities and not by U.S. authorities, he said. Yet if Japanese exports to the U.S. market were found to be involved, he added, the decision probably should be made in the United States.
Private business analysts, asked to comment on these remarks, generally agreed that the trade official's somewhat confusing statements seemed to reflect the level of indecision within the ministry concerning this highly controversial issue.