THE managing director of Cathay Pacific Airways, Rod Eddington, has accused American carriers and their Government of talking one game and playing another over what Asia-Pacific carriers claim are outdated and imbalanced air service agreements. The US Secretary of Transportation Federico Pena, at a recent International Air Transport Association (IATA) meeting, accused ''a group of airlines in the East Asian markets'' of attempting to ''curb or even roll back'' access by US carriers to the fast-growing Asia-Pacific market. He warned that the US would take action ''through all means available'' against competitors whose governments discriminated against the US airlines. The governments were playing with fire, he said. But Mr Eddington, chairman of the Orient Airlines Association's (OAA) aero-political committee, told the OAA's magazine Oriental Aviation: ''The calls of free trade US and protectionist Asia are a red herring. ''It is all about preserving lop-sided agreements which serve the primary purpose of keeping Asian carriers at bay.'' He said Asian carriers had finally said enough was enough and that Asian governments were becoming more restrictive over bilateral arrangements. ''Why did the Thais take such extraordinary steps in freezing their bilateral agreement with the US and yet give liberal bilaterals to Singapore and Hong Kong? Because they were getting nothing in return from the US,'' said Mr Eddington. Thai Airways International froze its bilateral agreement with the US in November 1990, after a long-running dispute over air rights between the two countries. Also critical of the US in the magazine were executives of Japan Air Lines (JAL), Singapore Airlines (SIA) and Thai. JAL vice-president of international affairs Kazunari Yashiro accused the US carriers of predatory tactics and said US policies inflicted serious damage on the international airline industry. For many years the OAA, which last year had three of its 15 members among the four most profitable airlines in the world, remained silent on the issue. But with a new policy of increasing its status and profile, the OAA is now vigorously demanding a ''level playing field''. The problem, say the Asia-Pacific carriers, dates back 20 or 30 years to when most of the bilateral agreements were signed. In Japan's case it was more than 40 years ago. In those days it was one-way traffic, with US businessmen and holiday-makers making a bee-line for Asia. Times and the economic trend have now changed. In Japan's case, six times more leisure and business travellers journey to the US than in the opposite direction. ''Thanks to bad results in the domestic airline business, US carriers are pushing harder to get into the Asia-Pacific region,'' said Mr Yashiro. ''In the past six years US carriers have been building up market share at the expense of Japanese airlines. They can do this because the agreement allows the US carriers unlimited capacity, so, ignoring the actual poor traffic demand, they keep adding capacity to build up market share to the point where they have 70 per cent of the US-Japan market. And they still want more. ''US carriers also occupy more than 30 per cent of the slots at Tokyo's congested Narita airport. In the soft market we face now, all the excess capacity drives down revenue and wipes out profit. It's irresponsible. ''Yet we still hear the US carriers demanding more access to Japan in the interests of the US consumer.'' Mr Eddington said liberal bilateral agreements existed between Asian and European countries and among the Asian countries themselves. ''It is realised that these countries are prepared to negotiate, to offer a balance of opportunity between each other.'' The secretary-general of the OAA, Ibrahim Taib, said that for the US to insist on greater access to the region without offering similar opportunities for OAA members would no longer be acceptable. While there are 12 OAA carriers operating between the US and OAA countries, six US carriers have a frequency share of more than 50 per cent. Nearly 40 per cent of US carriers' flights to OAA member countries are fifth-freedom services and the US carriers operate from 21 US airports against the OAA members' 10. The fifth-freedom rights are a notable bone of contention in the region. Historically, the rights were granted to allow US carriers to touch down in a third country, such as Japan, to refuel because they did not have the range to reach their destination. ''I feel the OAA carriers have to recognise they are in the middle of a part of the world with the fastest economic development and that this greatly attracts tourism and business travel. If they don't approach their markets with an open mind, they will drive inefficiencies into the aviation sector.''