RPT-Japan warns U.S. on "Buy American", protectionism

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TOKYO, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Japan has sent a letter to the United States expressing concern about protectionism stemming from a “Buy American” plan in Washington’s mammoth stimulus package, the top government spokesman said on Thursday.

The letter, sent on Wednesday to top aides of U.S. President Barack Obama and the Senate’s majority and minority leaders, echoes concerns by other U.S. trading partners, including Canada and the European Union. [ID:nN03517537]

“The common responsibility shared by the two countries, which are the world’s No.1 and No.2 economies, is to resist protectionism together,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura told a news conference.

The letter was sent to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and head of the National Economic Council Lawrence Summers, as well as the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, from Ichiro Fujisaki, the Japanese ambassador to Washington, Kawamura said.

The deepening global financial crisis and the failure to complete the World Trade Organisation’s long-running Doha round to free up global commerce, have raised fears that countries will block imports to protect jobs.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate voted to soften the “Buy American” provision in its $900 stimulus bill, which originally allowed only U.S.-made iron, steel and manufactured goods to be used in public works projects funded by the bill. [ID:nN04311449]

The vote for the amendment came after Obama expressed concern about the possibility of a trade war. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives included a “Buy American” provision that would the use of U.S.-made iron and steel in public works projects in its $825 billion stimulus package.

Asian stocks .MIAPJ0000PUS moved into positive territory at midday on the news, after opening lower on Thursday.

Japan is the fourth biggest exporter to the United States, after China, Canada and Mexico. (Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Bill Tarrant)