U.S., Japan try to end standoff

May 14, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Senior U.S. and Japanese officials agreed yesterday to try to revive their stalled negotiations on opening Japanese markets to more U.S. imports, but privately U.S. officials remained wary about the prospects for a deal.

Foreign Minister Koji Kakizawa of Japan and U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor spoke for 30 minutes by telephone yesterday morning about the need for preliminary contacts to resume their trade talks before the economic summit meeting of industrial nations in July.

The previous talks were broken off Feb. 11 by the Clinton administration after Tokyo refused to accede to U.S. demands for "numerical indicators" that would determine whether Japan really was opening markets in autos, auto parts, telecommunications, medical equipment and insurance.

Mr. Kantor and Mr. Kakizawa hoped talks would resume before the July meeting in Naples of the Group of Seven industrial nations, a statement from Mr. Kantor's office said.

U.S. officials are cautious about the prospects for several reasons. To begin with, before Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa resigned, he had promised to offer some steps to open markets and stimulate his sluggish economy. He said that he hoped these would go a long way toward satisfying the United States.

The Clinton administration was dubious about the Japanese proposals, which were scheduled to be delivered in June, but told the Japanese to come ahead.

The Hosokawa resignation and subsequent political turmoil, -Z however, overtook that effort, and now the two sides are back to trying to resolve their differences through negotiations instead.

U.S. officials also note that the Japanese side has gone out of its way to publicize these latest overtures.

Some U.S. officials believe that the fragile new government of Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata is eager, maybe even desperate, to cut a deal with the Clinton administration on trade, to prove to the Japanese public and political realm that the Hata Cabinet is serious, can get things done and can manage the most important foreign relationship Japan has today.

But U.S. officials express the fear that while the Hata government may have the will, it does not have the way. Not only does it carry little weight with the Japanese finance bureaucracy, which has been manning the barricades of opposition to the sort of trade pact the United States has been demanding, but it also does not even have a majority in parliament.

The big question with Japan today, as one senior U.S. policy-maker put it, is: "Is there a there there?"

Is there a real interlocutor with whom the United States can strike a deal that will be delivered by the Japanese side, or is Japan now so politically divided at the top that no serious deal is possible?

U.S. officials do not want to go to the Group of Seven meeting with U.S.-Japanese relations still an open sore, and neither do the Japanese.

But the Americans also do not want to resume negotiations with Japan, knowing that in the end they may have to choose between accepting a watered-down deal -- the only deal Japan very likely will be able to strike -- or a second breakdown in the negotiations, which would further rattle global financial markets.

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