‘I’m Not Shutting Out Foreign Firms’
President of new Kansai Airport denies charges of exclusion
By BRIAN COVERT
OSAKA — As U.S. congressional concern mounts over the proposed Kansai International Airport project, airport company president Dr. Yoshio Takeuchi maintains that American businesses are not being unfairly excluded from the plans.
“Definitely, I’m not shutting out foreign companies intentionally,” he said through an interpreter.
Rather, said Takeuchi, the barriers stem from the slight interest shown by foreign companies, as well as a refusal to adapt to the Japanese way of doing business.
Target of Congress
Takeuchi’s remarks to The Japan Times came after the U.S. Senate passed earlier this week an omnibus trade bill that includes an amendment on American participation in the airport construction.
The amendment, proposed by Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, asks Trade Representative Clayton Yeutter to look into whether American companies have been unfairly excluded from construction bids on the airport, which will be built 5 km offshore in Osaka Bay.
Takeuchi dismissed allegations of exclusion as untrue.
He told The Japan Times that foreign firms have come along much too late in the plans, unrealistically expecting to get contract bids that were decided in favor of domestic firms long before the airport became a focal point of Japan-U.S. trade tensions.
“We started the plans five or six years ago,” he said, “and many Japanese companies were interested in this project.
“Foreign companies didn’t show up at that time. They made this into a big problem all of a sudden, claiming it is very exclusive” to Japanese firms, he said.
Foreign government officials have called for adjustments in the design teams and for more open bidding procedures. Takeuchi has refused, citing a number of reasons.
Among them is that Japanese firms are best able to handle labor, technical and other cultural problems more effectively than foreign businesses. Working in Japan means adjusting to the traditional way of doing business here, just as the Japanese must conform to foreign standards when working abroad, Takeuchi said.
Dr. Eberhard F. Baumann, German consul general in Kobe and head of the foreign diplomatic corps in Kansai, dismissed the airport firm’s reasoning on that point as “nonsense.”
“If the Japanese say no, that is rubbish,” he said. “If they won’t let you walk, how can you learn your way?”
The airport company has recently awarded a number of consulting contracts to both European and American airport-related businesses, the most recent being a joint venture with two major Japanese corporations and an American telecommunications company.
“We are glad to accept consultants or engineering (experts) from foreign countries,” said Takeuchi, adding that foreign firms have yet to apply for a civil service license as required by the Japanese government.
Said Baumann: “They (the airport company) have offered consulting contracts to a few airport companies to calm us down a little. It’s all politics — and the Japanese way of thinking.”
Baumann rejected claims by Takeuchi that foreign firms are not showing strong interest in the airport project.
The German consul general cited as an example an airport industry exhibition held here in May.
As for the airport’s future, Baumann said foreign access will be gained only if “we maintain pressure. At the very moment the pressure goes down, the urge fades away.”