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Japan Logs Third Quarter of Negative Growth


Government data show Japan is slipping back into recession, but officials will not admit it. Departing U.S. Ambassador Howard Baker vents his frustration at the delay in getting American beef back into Japan. And Japan gets its third major international airport.

Japan's economy has slipped back into recession for the fourth time in 13 years. The Cabinet Office says gross domestic product fell one-tenth of a percent in the last three months of 2004. That follows drops in the previous two quarters.

Japanese officials refuse to talk about a recession - they insist the economy remains on the right track.

Economic Minister Heizo Takenaka says the Japanese economy is "moving almost sideways with a few weak movements." The verdict from private sector economists is split.

On his last day on the job, departing U.S. Ambassador Howard Baker voiced frustration about the impasse between Washington and Tokyo on resuming American beef imports, despite several rounds of negotiations that appeared to have settled outstanding issues.

"Now I see that if it was settled it's a very slow process. The importation of American beef has been much delayed and I think it's too bad," said Mr. Baker. "It's important that they continue the effort and that they resolve the issue as soon as possible. But it's a personal disappointment to me."

Japan banned American beef imports 14 months ago after the discovery of mad cow disease in a single animal in Washington State.

The country's third major international air gateway has opened. The Central Japan International Airport, serving the Nagoya region, is offering nearly 300 weekly flights to 25 foreign cities. It expects to handle 12 million passengers a year.

The airport, built on reclaimed land in Ise Bay, will operate around the clock. The regional hub hopes to attract more airlines by offering landing fees significantly below those charged by Narita and Kansai international airport.

Japanese digital single-lens reflex cameras are clicking with shutterbugs. Canon says it is increasing production of the cameras 40 percent this year to 1.8 million units. Its rival, Nikon, says it is boosting factory output 50 percent to 1.5 million units.

Analysts say the SLR cameras, which sell for about $1,000, have a higher profit margin than compact models. Thus the desire by camera makers to increase the manufacturing ratio of the high-end models.

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