Japanese executives urge steps to counter 'narrow national interests' of U.S.

December 23, 1992|By David E. Sanger | David E. Sanger,New York Times News Service

TOKYO -- In a bluntly worded warning to President-elect Bill Clinton, a panel of influential Japanese business leaders said in a government-sponsored report yesterday that the United States was focusing on "its own narrow national interests" in economic matters. The executives urged the passage of "necessary and appropriate emergency response measures" by the Japanese government that would deter unilateral American actions to resolve trade disputes.

In the report, commissioned by Japan's foreign minister, the business leaders did not describe the emergency measures they had in mind. But they were widely interpreted as calling for laws to enable Japan to place high tariffs on American or European goods -- or to block their entry -- if the same actions were taken abroad against its products.

The report was released as Japanese officials and business executives have become more critical of the newly signed North American Free Trade Agreement, and increasingly concerned that the Clinton administration will use tax and trade laws to impede the American operations of Japanese companies. It notes "a growing amount of frustration lingering just below the surface in Japan and in other nations of the world" about what it termed "self-centered thinking" in the United States about trade.

The report also calls for scrapping the Bush administration's main economic initiative with Japan, an effort to restructure both economies to solve problems that set off constant disputes, and replacing it with a broader, high-level economic panel.

Arguing that Japan has rapidly opened its economy while the United States has failed to live up to commitments to reduce its budget deficit, promote saving and eliminate trade barriers, the report says, "While the process has been referred to as a working two-way approach, in fact it has been quite one-way."

The authors are somewhat critical of Japan as well, saying that its business practices must have clearer rules and become more open to foreigners. They also repeat calls for its government to play "a more active leadership role in the international community."

In discussing Japan's shortcomings, the report said that the government should reduce its regulation of the economy, that the retail distribution system needs to be simplified and that anti-monopoly laws ought to be enforced more strictly.

The report describes the United States in terms that most Japanese use only in private. It is particularly critical of Americans who it says call for a trade policy that would measure success with Japan by the reduction of America's trade deficit or its sales of specific products.

"In the name of promoting free trade and open markets, the United States has come to adopt a result-oriented approach in its demands on individual issues," the report notes. "In actuality, this approach constitutes a single-minded pursuit of American interests."

The United States has made such a cascade of demands, the authors suggest, that it "is becoming politically difficult for Japan to concede."

Japan may have picked a poor time to make its case. Its trade surplus, not only with the United States but with its Asian neighbors, is soaring. This year, Japan's trade surplus with the world is expected to top $100 billion, and the government predicts that it will be as high as $135 billion next year.

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