Japan Rejects U.S. Automakers' Complaint Over Incentives

Dismisses claims that program is protectionist by excluding U.S. imports

Japan on Friday rejected a complaint by U.S. automakers that its program of government incentives to encourage people to buy new cars discriminated against foreign manufacturers.

Japan, like many other countries, has given tax reductions and subsidies to people buying fuel-efficient vehicles, as part of efforts to boost the flagging economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The American Automotive Policy Council -- which represents General Motors, Ford and Chrysler -- has complained with U.S. trade officials that the Japanese program, set to be renewed, is protectionist as it excludes U.S. imports.

But Japan's top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano, rejected the allegation. "Japan's eco-car program is designed both as an economic and environmental measure," he said. "As long as certain environmental conditions are satisfied, any cars -- regardless of whether they are foreign or domestic -- would be included."

Government stimulus measures have supported car sales in the United States, Japan and Europe after the economic downturn severely hit the global auto industry.

Such initiatives have been wound down in several countries. Auto sales have fallen sharply in the United States since the $3 billion "Cash for Clunkers" program there ended in August.

The U.S. automakers argued Japanese carmakers sold nearly half the vehicles purchased in the United States this year through the clunkers program.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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