TOKYO — The foreign trade minister summoned top executives of 60 leading Japanese companies Monday and asked them to submit plans by mid-May for increasing imports.
The unprecedented move by Keijiro Murata came two weeks after Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone announced measures to open Japan's markets to foreign goods. Nakasone also asked the people to buy more imports in an effort to reduce the huge trade imbalance with the United States and other allies.
Executives "shared the same concern" about the trade crisis, and it was Murata's impression "that we got a total commitment from the guests," Shinobu Murai, deputy director of the ministry's International Trade Administration Bureau, told a news conference after the meeting.
He added, however, that the executives said foreign companies must improve quality, meet delivery deadlines and set up effective service operations for consumers if they are to succeed in the Japanese market.
"I call on each of you, within your companies, to concentrate your wisdom on this problem and make an all-out effort," Murai quoted Murata as telling the executives in a one-hour meeting.
Murata asked that each company appoint a senior executive to lead a team on imports, prepare a plan by mid-May and submit reports on results to the ministry.
Japan had a trade surplus of $36.8 billon with the United States last year and $10.7 billion with the European Common Market, according to figures from the U.S. Commerce Department and the Japanese Finance Ministry.
"The extraordinary level of dissatisfaction over trade relations with Japan in the U.S. Congress . . . is more severe than it has ever been. Japan's huge surplus is undeniably a factor underlying this surge of protectionism," Murata said.
He urged the executives to work for expansion of imports, especially manufactured goods, based on the awareness that "without expanded imports, there can be no healthy development for the Japanese economy from now on."
Among the 60 companies, 33 accounted for about 50% of Japan's total exports in fiscal 1983, which ended in March, 1984. Among those attending were the presidents of Toyota Motor and Nissan Motor and the chairman of Sony.
Murai said the ministry is not thinking of a specific monetary goal and will not require individual companies to promote sales of imported goods according to a certain proportion of their exports or total sales.
"We are not resorting to the famous, or notorious, 'administrative guidance.' We are looking for a change in awareness," he said. But Murai added: "We are looking for immediate . . . tangible results."
He said the companies agreed with the idea and also asked for an end to government paper work and other non-tariff barriers to imports.