Nissan says it bought $2.35 billion worth of U.S.-made auto **parts last year

June 05, 1993|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau

TOKYO -- Japan's second-largest automaker proudly announced this week that it is right on schedule toward meeting just the kind of target top Tokyo trade officials now say must be blocked at all costs.

Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. said it had purchased $2.35 billion worth of U.S.-made auto parts in the fiscal year ended March 31, a 65 percent increase over the previous year's $1.42 billion.

That puts Nissan well on its way toward meeting a goal of boosting its purchases of U.S. auto parts to $3.7 billion by the fiscal year that will end March 31, 1995 -- part of a list of targets set by Japan's Big Five automakers during former President Bush's troubled 1992 visit to Tokyo.

For precisely that reason, it also appeared to hand new ammunition to U.S. negotiators as they confront a two-month-old Japanese policy of stonewalling any further U.S. demands for numerical import targets.

"If a company as reluctant as Nissan originally was can make progress with the help of a goal, that's a pretty compelling case for setting targets," a Western trade official based here said after seeing the automaker's announcement.

Hajime Funada, Japan's minister of state for economic planning, pressed Japan's new anti-target line again Wednesday in Paris.

"Some argue that setting numerical targets is a useful way of redressing current account imbalance, but it is almost impossible to resolve the problem in such ways," he told a meeting of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development trade and finance chiefs.

A Clinton administration advisory team has pointed favorably to agreements like one that has boosted the U.S. share of Japan's huge semiconductor market to about 20 percent.

The team recommended intense pressure on Japan for broader use of similar targets, including overall goals for reduction of America's $49-billion trade deficit with Japan.

President Clinton has yet to adopt that team's proposals, but Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa has denounced the plan as a form of "managed trade."

Instead of seeking to mollify critics of its unprecedented $130-billion-a-year worldwide surplus, Mr. Miyazawa's government has launched a campaign to paint Japan as world trade's victim nation, a land of free-trade true believers fighting the good fight against an increasingly protectionist United States.

While Japanese officials mobilize to fight off "managed trade," the Nissan announcement spells out in detail how much effort it took to budge one gigantic Japanese company from fiscal 1991's negligible $860 million in purchases from U.S. suppliers to a still-modest $2.35 billion two years later.

The company invited 50 U.S. companies to a first-ever suppliers' meeting here last year and plans to hold a second suppliers' meeting this year, the announcement said. The meetings "provide interested U.S. suppliers with detailed information on [Nissan's] product development and procurement policies with aview to cultivating long-term business relationships with them."

Such "long-term business relationships" between giant manufacturers and their suppliers have long been attacked by American and European exporters as a uniquely Japanese way of freezing out foreign makers even after Japan eliminated most of its tariffs and other visible trade barriers.

The announcement described how Nissan involved U.S. suppliers from the early stage of vehicle design and parts development, created an in-house import promotion committee and sent study teams to the U.S.

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