Trucking looms far larger in the domestic economies of industrialized nations than it does in international trade talks. In Japan's case, this neglect has been a consequence of the relatively limited niches that foreign firms typically hope to fill. The small role of foreign competitors gives a misleading indication of the trucking industry's importance to international commerce, however. Trucking obviously is critical to moving goods from harbors and airports to domestic customers and providing the first leg in the movement of exports to overseas customers. If the industry performs that function well, international trade grows. Conversely, to the extent that it becomes more efficient at moving goods within the country, both imports and exports may be smaller than otherwise.
Most experts believe that the costs of trucking services in Japan are high by international standards. A definitive statement is difficult, however, because the structure of trucking services differs by country. Compared to the United States, Japanese trucking is characterized by relatively small vehicles transporting goods short distances. At this extreme end of the spectrum from an American perspective, cost comparisons obviously do not favor the United States.
Partly because of the perception that high trucking costs hinder economic performance, Japan has moved to deregulate its industry during the past 10 years. The impact of that effort is less than obvious, however, in part because available evidence suggests that trucking regulation had relatively little effect prior to the reforms. To the extent that Japanese trucking costs are high, the causes appear rooted to a significant degree in other economic policies and in regulations, such as those resulting from the Large Retail Store Law, that affect trucking only indirectly.
In the last four years or so American trade negotiators have focused increased attention on Japanese trucking, primarily to win better market access for U.S. firms attempting to provide a limited range of services in Japan. Tokyo has been at least moderately responsive to Washington's suggestions. Nonetheless, both sides appear oblivious to the possibility that significant deregulation in other industries would affect trucking in Japan. That, in turn, would have important effects on the Japanese economy as well as on international trade in goods.
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