YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Christopher Says Japan Broke Trade Pledge : Policy: Speaking harshly after fruitless talks, the secretary of state says that 'great nations keep their commitments.'


TOKYO — After making no progress toward resolving America's economic conflict with Japan, Secretary of State Warren Christopher on Thursday accused Japanese officials of breaking their promises by failing to negotiate a new trade agreement with the United States.

"I said simply that great nations keep their commitments," Christopher said following meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa and Foreign Minister Tsutomu Hata.

In July, during a visit by President Clinton to Tokyo, Japan promised to bring about a "highly significant decrease" in its $120-billion-a-year trade surplus with the rest of the world.

"No one would agree with the contention that Japan has met its commitments," the secretary of state said.

Christopher's harsh words appeared to represent an effort to place Japan on the defensive in the continuing conflict over the two countries' trading relationship. They also reflect the Clinton Administration's desire to shift public debate away from the details of the trade dispute and toward the question of whether Japan has violated its promises.

On Wednesday, Motorola Inc. said it was making progress on a deal to improve its access to Japan's cellular telephone market. But that dispute, which prompted the Administration to threaten sanctions, is just one issue in the trade conflict.

In a speech prepared for delivery today to the Japan Assn. of Corporate Executives, Christopher planned to press hard at the theme that America's huge trade imbalance with Japan cannot be allowed to last.

"For the world's two largest economies, agreeing to disagree is not good enough," his speech reads. "I came to Japan to make sure our message is understood: Your government needs to take firm action to honor the commitments it made."

Both Japanese and American officials indicated Thursday that it is becoming increasingly unlikely that the economic frictions will ease any time soon.

Hosokawa and Hata told Christopher that Japan plans to come up with a market-opening package "with substantial meaning" by the end of March.

But they said nothing to him about a Japanese Cabinet decision Wednesday to delay announcement of portions of the new package until shortly before the G-7 summit meeting of the world's leading industrialized nations July 8-10 in Naples.

The Cabinet decision marks Japan's second step backward, in terms of delay, since trade talks between the two countries broke down at the Feb. 11 summit between Clinton and Hosokawa.


There have been "some beginning hints of change in Japan's position," said a senior U.S. official who briefed reporters on the condition he not be named. But he said these have been "vague and generalized . . . and even those steps have been criticized within the government and in business."

America's trade deficit with Japan was approximately $60 billion last year and is expected to grow. Nevertheless, Hosokawa, in a 45-minute meeting, urged the Clinton Administration to be patient.

The prime minister told Christopher that "Japan is changing. Many foreigners may see the change as occurring slowly. But we are working steadily to carry out fundamental changes in our system. These will be very important changes for the Japanese people."

Perhaps surprisingly, there has been no sign yet that the persistent economic frictions are harming security ties between the United States and Japan.

Senior U.S. defense officials joined Christopher here for meetings with top officials of the Japanese Defense Agency for talks on defense issues.

Christopher, who stopped in Japan for a two-day visit on his way to China, was never expected to bring the sort of detailed proposals that would settle the trade dispute.

His task seems to be to tell Japan that the security-minded parts of the Administration, such as the State and Defense departments, support Clinton's hawkish policy on trade.

Los Angeles Times Articles