WASHINGTON -- President Clinton and Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa set their sights on a new partnership in world economic leadership yesterday but failed to bridge their differences over making the Japanese market more open to U.S. goods.
"Let's not paper this over. There are some differences still between the prime minister and me," Mr. Clinton told reporters after their meeting, listing disagreements on how to increase U.S. access to particular sectors of the Japanese market and dismantle trade barriers that are part of the Japanese commercial system.
"The simple fact is that it is harder to sell in Japan's market than in ours. America is accepting the challenge of change and so, too, must Japan."
Mr. Miyazawa stood his ground, rejecting outright the sort of specific market-share guarantees the Clinton administration would like and warning against any resort to U.S. protectionism or trade sanctions.
"We must nurture this relationship with a cooperative spirit based upon the principle of free trade," said the Japanese
leader, adding bluntly: "This cannot be realized with managed trade nor under the threat of unilateralism."
The Japanese have refused to extend to other sectors of their economy the agreement that opened 20 percent of their semi-conductor market to foreign products. The Clinton administration would like to reach similar arrangements in other trade areas, such as computers, auto parts, and farm products.
But a senior White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said numerical guarantees of market share were not the only measure of the openness of the Japanese market. He pointed to the rate of growth of U.S. exports to Japan and the degree of open contract tendering for specific orders as other indicators of access.
He said the Clinton administration was not setting any trade "targets," but added: "It is important for us to be able to measure these agreements [on access to the Japanese market]. The government of Japan has stated it doesn't agree with market share indicators or temporary quantitative indicators.
"What the president has felt is that it is important to be able to measure progress in areas that one comes to agreement about."
The White House meeting of the two leaders coincided with the announcement by the Commerce Department that the U.S. global merchandise trade deficit edged higher in February, with the margin between U.S. imports from Japan and exports to it widening to $4.13 billion from $3.90 billion in January. Last year the U.S. trade deficit with Japan was $49 billion, 59 percent of the nation's total trade deficit.
Those figures were central to an exchange yesterday which wa asnoteworthy for its frankness as its friendliness. They are also the core of a U.S.-Japanese policy realignment, which will give economic issues the sort of primacy that security and global collaboration had during the Cold War.
The two leaders emphasized the need to help reform in Russi and to put pressure on North Korea -- possibly through the Chinese -- to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons. But, as Mr. Clinton put it, "economics were at the heart of our discussions."
"The rebalancing of our relationship in this new era requires an elevated attention to our economic relations that must begin with an honest appraisal of each country and out mutual responsibilities," he said.
A senior State Department official, asked whether focusing so strongly on the principle area of tension between the two countries was a good start to a "new partnership," said: "The end result will be to strengthen the three legs of this relationship. Without remedial action in that economic area, then we would face problems in the future."
Mr. Clinton and Mr. Miyazawa agreed to establish "a new framework" to start addressing within three months specific ways of expanding economic growth and trade.
"When our two nations take these economic steps individually and together, we will be the two strongest drivers of economic growth," said Mr. Clinton.
They also agreed to meet personally twice a year, setting the highest seal on the effort to forge what Mr. Clinton called "a new partnershipbased on a longer-term vision."
Mr. Clinton argued that to be strong abroad, the United States had to be strong at home, and this meant increased access to the Japanese market. He welcomed the $116 billion stimulus package the Miyazawa government announced earlier this week, but said it must be "a continued and sustained effort."
Taking his turn on the podium, Mr. Miyazawa praised Mr. Clinton for "tackling the budget deficit problem head on," but also voiced "serious concern" over U.S. competitiveness and export promotion policies, indicating that shortcomings in these areas were as much to blame for the U.S. trade deficit as Japanese market restrictions.
The 73-year-old Japanese leader ended on an optimistic note, saying: "For half a century, I have been involved in our bilateral relations in one way or another. Now, talking to the youthful new leader of this great nation who has emerged at an historic time of changes in the world, I felt optimism for the unbounded possibilities of our two nations working together in our new partnership to bring a better world for all of us."