Japanese Counter With A Poem

February 13, 1994|By Thomas Easton | Thomas Easton,Tokyo Bureau of The Sun

TOKYO -- News of President Clinton's and Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa's failure to reach an agreement in critical trade talks landed as quietly here as the accompanying rare heavy snow.

The formal breakdown in negotiations was announced between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. yesterday, after a national holiday Friday.

Only one of the television networks was broadcasting at the time, and the morning papers were not printed because of the holiday. The snow closed roads and airports and derailed scheduled train departures.

From the 1930s housing to the new skyscrapers of global corporations, Tokyo was deserted.

A plunge in the dollar and a rise in the yen after the failure of the trade talks registered only in the United States and Europe.

Japan's financial firms, and their trading desks, were all closed.

Concern about sanctions

Yesterday afternoon, the major business groups and political parties began offering their opinions.

Whether they represented the automobile industry, insurers, or labor, the comments were all broadly the same -- concern about sanctions that could cut off access to the U.S. market for Japanese goods balanced against distaste for the U.S. demands.

As summarized by Gaishi Hiraiwa, chairman of the powerful Federation of Economic Organizations, failure was "unavoidable" as long as the United States insisted on using "objective criteria" to measure the penetration of U.S. products into the Japanese market, a condition America has said is pivotal to any agreement.

Japanese political and business leaders urged continued discussions between the two countries.

"We should not leave the talks alone for a long time," Hiroshi Kumagai, head of the powerful Ministry of Trade and Industry (MITI), told Japanese reporters at a news conference.

LTC Impeding a more focused response is the reality that the next step is up to the United States -- the party in negotiations that asked for concessions and didn't get them.

Sanctions undefined

Although various forms of retaliation have been hinted at in comments by Treasury Secretary Lloyd M. Bentsen and Mickey Kantor, the U.S. trade representative, none has ever been made clear.

The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo has yet to begin the laborious effort of designing sanctions, a process requiring prolonged discussions with U.S. companies to ensure that any move does not inadvertently cause harm to American firms.

The yen has once again begun to strengthen as foreign exchange markets have apparently concluded that little progress has been made on alleviating Japan's huge trade surpluses, the underlying issue in the Clinton-Hosokawa talks.

The yen's current level, at a little below 107 to the dollar, verges on the point many Japanese manufacturers consider impossible make a profit domestically -- a position that could, by itself, begin to erode Japan's surpluses, albeit at tremendous cost to the Japanese people.

Newspaper poem

The timing of the collapse of the talks precluded Japan's influential dailies from weighing in with editorials, but the Asahi Shimbun, Mr. Hosokawa's former employer and the newspaper often considered the most international of the Japanese dailies, did try to express what it perceived to be Mr. Clinton's thoughts in the form of a short, traditional Japanese Haiku poem.

"Even though [you] say, 'No, no,' [I] keep knocking on the snowing gate."

It then tried to capture Mr. Hosokawa's in the same way: "It is not natural to agree with everything, every time. It is not necessary to amend the Japan-U.S. relationship, which is supposed to be mature."

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