Japan making progress on U.S. trade concerns: USTR

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Friday that Japan has improved market access for a broad range of U.S. goods and services, as Washington continues to consider Tokyo's application to join a proposed free trade pact in the Asia Pacific.

"I welcome the progress we have made," U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a statement. "Addressing issues of concern and working closely together to advance new areas of cooperation will further deepen our relationship with Japan - a strong ally and our fourth largest export market."

Japan over the past year has agreed to address U.S. concerns in areas that include intellectual property protection, automobiles, information and communication technology services and products, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, agricultural products, and distribution services, Kirk said.

Specifically, USTR said Japan has:

- Eased the way for imported cars that incorporate new, advanced technologies and features not covered by existing regulation.

- Introduced new legal protections that boost the ability of intellectual property right holders to defend their products and services from unauthorized use.

- Shortened the decision-making process for approval of advanced pharmaceuticals and medical devices by several months.

- Improved the business environment for imported cosmetics.

- Committed to introducing a new auction system for commercial spectrum within the next three years that will increase opportunities for telecommunications companies.

- Revised rules to increase the speed, transparency, and predictability of anti-monopoly merger reviews, bringing Japan's process into closer alignment with global best practices.

In November, Japan formally asked to join negotiations with the United States and eight other countries on the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact, a proposed regional free trade agreement.

The current TPP partners -- which also include Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Chile, Peru and Brunei -- are expected to decide early this year on Japan's request and two other applications from Canada and Mexico.

(Reporting By Doug Palmer; Editing by Sandra Maler)