TOKYO — Members of the House Ways and Means Committee warned Japan on Thursday that Congress will pass protectionist legislation unless Japanese trade barriers come down.
"If necessary, Congress will retaliate against unjustified market barriers or unfair trade practices," said Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), chairman of the committee, which has primary jurisdiction over trade issues in the House.
The bipartisan message was delivered at a news conference by 11 members of the committee after they had met with Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and other Japanese leaders.
Rep. John J. Duncan (R-Tenn.), the committee's ranking minority member, said Japan "will no longer be able to hide behind the Republicans" to prevent Congress from enacting protectionist trade legislation next year.
Duncan's statement drew several confirmations, and no disavowals, from the six Democrats and five Republicans who took part in the news conference.
"Any legislation which comes from the Congress--and you can bet it will, unless something happens soon--will be a bipartisan effort, and not just by the Democratic Party," Duncan said. "Many of us (Republicans) supported (President Reagan) on trade matters last year because we were in his party, but I, for one, am fed up with what has happened. I think you are going to see some action, whether we like it or not." Reagan opposes protectionist legislation.
Rostenkowski said: "If other countries want the United States to avoid protectionism, then they must examine their own protectionist tendencies. The United States must, for its own industrial and agricultural survival, become a hard-nosed negotiator in any trade talks. We will not tolerate politically motivated barriers in countries with massive trade surpluses."
The committee chairman said he was "very pleased" with the group's meeting with Nakasone. The prime minister, he said, was "understanding" about the "very strong feeling in the Congress that something has to be done about our trade imbalance."
However, Rep. Bill Gradison (R-Ohio) said figures cited by Nakasone indicating that "a turning point had already been reached" had failed to persuade the delegation that the American red ink was about to shrink.
Through the first nine months of this year, the U.S trade deficit with Japan amounted to $43.1 billion, or an annual rate of $57.4 billion. Last year, the deficit was $49.7 billion.
Gradison also said American voters do not have a sense that the trade imbalance "is as high a priority in Japan" as Nakasone indicated.
Rostenkowski said his delegation had "a very blunt exchange" of views with members of the ruling party in Japan's Parliament. "Our message was received," he said. "Whether or not it was pleasing, I have my doubts."