THE US AND Japanese Governments are once again become embroiled in a bitter row over air-cargo rights, with the two sides threatening to impose sanctions from the end of July.

The US Department of Transportation (DoT) says that it will restrict certain Japan Airlines (JAL) cargo routes from 31 July, unless the Japanese Government approves the latest FedEx applications for new fifth-freedom services to Asian cities beyond Tokyo.

In effect, the threat is to stop JAL from serving the same Asian-US routes, which are being denied to FedEx. JAL would be prevented from carrying cargo to the USA from Manila and Cebu in the Philippines, as well as Shanghai, Beijing and Jakarta.

Japan's transport ministry has warned that it will retaliate by barring Northwest Airlines and FedEx from carrying freight on all routes between Japan and Cebu, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Penang and Singapore.

This latest row follows the breakdown in Japanese-US talks in Washington at the end of June over new cargo services and a reworked passenger bilateral. Japan refused to approve any new increase in US fifth-freedom services from Narita or Kansai, and instead demanded that a new, more equitable, bilateral agreement be negotiated.

The USA has ruled out any new agreement until Japan first approves all outstanding applications allowed under the existing 1952 bilateral treaty between the two countries. "The USA will honour its commitments, and we expect our aviation partners to do the same," says US transportation secretary Federico Pena.

Following the collapse, FedEx was forced to cancel the planned 1 July start-up of its new Asian services and Northwest has also had to push back the launch of its new service to Seattle-Jakarta service, via Kansai, until 1 October.

It is only a year since the two sides, last threatened sanctions, following Japan's refusal to grant FedEx new routes to support its Subic Bay cargo hub, in the Philippines. A battle was only averted after a new accord was reached on air-cargo services in April.

Japan claims that the new accord does not include the new destinations being asked for by FedEx, but the DoT argues that these are covered by the existing 1952 bilateral.

The USA and Japan, in spite of the threat of cargo sanctions, have managed to agree to extend by four weeks additional summer-schedule passenger frequencies for JAL and United. JAL has increased its Sendai-Honolulu service from three-times-a-week to daily, while United has doubled the number of flights between Los Angeles and Tokyo to 14 a week.

A similar row over passenger services is also simmering, following the refusal of Northwest's application to serve Jakarta via Japan.

Source: Flight International