The U.S. government caused a bit of a stir this week when it delivered a terse message to the Japanese government, warning Japan against misinterpreting the recent Open Skies agreement between the two nations.
Apparently, the U.S. is annoyed by press reports quoting Japanese authorities as saying that the U.S. has already agreed to grant antitrust immunity for joint ventures – which of course, it has not. One application has just been filed (involving ANA and United), and JAL is still deciding whether it will apply with American or Delta.
The background to all this is that the Japanese government would only give its tentative approval for the Open Skies deal in December. It will only be officially signed once the U.S. has approved one or two joint ventures. And the U.S. took great pains to stress that it would not guarantee these approvals. Any applications would go through the usual procedural process, and be decided on their merits.
So in the latest message, the U.S. seems to think Japanese officials have been telling the press that the U.S. promised to approve the joint ventures. The talking points (copied below) were delivered by telephone by Paul Gretch, head of DOT’s international aviation office, to Japanese Transportation Counselor Yoshiro Funabiki.
I find this odd for a couple of reasons. First, the U.S. had already been very explicit on this point, so I can’t believe that the Japanese officials would have forgotten that. And it also seems strange to use press reports as the basis for a strongly-worded diplomatic communiqué.
Anyway, here is the actual text of the message, as delivered:
USG TALKING POINTS
We are quite concerned about much of the recent press reports out of Tokyo indicating that the U.S. and Japan have agreed or prearranged approval of any ATI applications on any certain schedule.
As we have consistently said from the outset of the negotiations, the U.S. government is not in the business of picking or choosing partners for our carriers and we most certainly have not and can not make any guarantees that any or all applications for ATI would be approved by DOT, including the one currently before the Department.
In the U.S., each application for ATI is considered on a case-by-case basis and undergoes a rigorous competitive analysis before any preliminary judgments are made.
So that there is absolutely no misunderstanding: it is possible that one or more ATI applications by U.S. and Japanese carriers could be disapproved by DOT. There will be no prejudgment of these cases, either as to the substantive outcome or the schedule for a decision. Comments by MLIT officials suggesting otherwise are incorrect and very unhelpful.