USA: Japanese under the bed. (1 of 2)

USA: Japanese under the bed. (1 of 2) - "Agents of Influence - How Japanese Lobbyists are Manipulating Western Political and Economic Systems" by Pat Choate (Hutchinson, 218 pages, £22.00).

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

"Agents of Influence - How Japanese Lobbyists are Manipulating Western Political and Economic Systems" by Pat Choate (Hutchinson, 218 pages, £22.00).

Review by Charles Miller.

Over 25 years ago, in "Le Defi Americain", Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber postulated the danger of American multinationals stealing Europe's commercial treasures. Many found the idea credible. Yet around the time that Servan-Schreiber was receiving his first royalty cheques, oriental faces could be seen popping up behind the walls at the Isle of Man TT races. The Japanese studied the British motorcycle industry carefully, learned their lessons and became world beaters. It was the start of "Le Defi Japonais". Now it is an American political economist, not a French political journalist, who is sounding the alarm.

Pat Choate's book will be better received in the United States than in Europe, although it should certainly find French readers. Choate parallels Servan-Schreiber, but his exposes are ostensibly more sinister: showing how the Japanese bought their way to excessive influence in Washington by hiring regiments of lobbyists, many of them senior former officials, in order to move Congress and the Administration their way. Like the scouts at the TT races, it seems, the Japanese studied their subject, and now work the system rather better than the natives do.

Here is one example. US tariffs distinguish between passenger cars and light trucks. In the late 1980s the Japanese, with their own US plants producing so many cars that they had little need to import more, and with voluntary quotas unfilled, decided to reclassify light commercial vehicles as cars. The US Customs Service reviewed this loophole. The Japanese started lobbying. Congressmen were persuaded to meet and write to William von Raab, then Commissioner of Customs, supporting their case. But von Raab refused to budge and Customs vetoed the reclassification.

Japan reacted swiftly. At the following Group of Seven meeting it persuaded the Germans and British to press Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady to reconsider. Within days the ruling was suspended. Japanese lobbyists then met officials from the office of the US Trade Representative, the White House and the Treasury Department. They also mounted a nationwide campaign, alleging that the ruling would harm US consumers by raising truck prices. Dealers flooded Congress with angry letters. Japanese officials further threatened that, if reinstated, the ruling could damage US-Japan relations.

The Eagle responded. The heads of Chrysler, Ford and General Motors jointly urged the President, officials and Congress to stand firm. Their dealers, too, deluged Capitol Hill. But their efforts were unavailing. In the end Japan avoided $500 million a year in duties without making a single concession of its own.

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