TOKYO — Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige announced an apparent solution to one major trade issue between the United States and Japan on Tuesday but warned Japanese businessmen that they must remove "barriers (to imports) buried deep in private business relationships" or face U.S. action to slash Japan's exports to the United States.
"We are arriving close to the point in our trading relationship that has been coming for a long time--unilaterally stopping imports of Japanese goods," Baldrige said at a meeting attended by executives of 45 major companies.
Baldrige said he was "heartened" by assurances he had received that U.S. firms will be designated as qualified to bid on contracts to build runways and terminal buildings and to supply equipment for a new 1-trillion yen ($6.45 billion) airport at Osaka.
In answer to a question, the commerce secretary said Japan's "designated bidder" system, by which firms are subjected to checks to ensure that they are qualified to carry out contracts before they are allowed to participate in bidding, is "fine" with the United States.
He said both Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and Transportation Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto had assured him that American firms would be designated as qualified bidders and that firms, regardless of nationality, "who have the quality with the lowest cost will get the job."
"That's the way we do it in the United States," where Japanese construction firms last year won about $1.8 billion of American contracts, an increase of more than 30% over 1984, he said.
The statement about the airport, however, was Baldrige's only optimistic comment about U.S.-Japanese trade relations.
He said he fears that Congress might override President Reagan's veto of a textile import quota bill next week and noted that Congress is considering an omnibus trade bill that would mandate "strong actions to stop the flow of your imports into the United States."
Members of Congress, he said, "believe, as most of their constituents believe, that Japan is doing very little to resolve the problem besides talk."
Although Japan has reduced tariffs to "among the lowest in the world," eliminated many "unfair standards and technical barriers," and opened up its markets for many products, he said, "nothing has happened to the volume of imports Japan will accept. . . . We find the Japanese unwilling to take even our most competitive products."