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Glass Issue: It's Far From Clear : Tokyo motives questioned after deadline is broken in U.S.-Japan trade talks

November 04, 1994

The Japanese dichotomy of tatemae (the way things are presented) and honne ( actual motives or reality) is brought to mind by the failure of Washington and Tokyo to meet last Monday's deadline for finalizing an agreement for Japan to buy more U.S. glass.

At issue is glass for autos and buildings. U.S. manufacturers have only a 1% share of Japan's $4.5-billion glass market, compared to their shares of more than 25% in Europe and Latin America.

It was perhaps too much to expect that in averting a trade war last month the United States and Japan would begin moving toward a new dialogue ending in the Japanese buying more U.S. exports. Some observers are wondering whether the trouble in reaching a final accord on flat glass undercuts Japan's recent tentative agreements to open its market to U.S. glass, medical and telecommunications equipment and insurance.

Even though Tokyo agreed to accept objective, enforceable standards to measure market progress, the glass talks apparently are hung up over defining the specific criteria. Easing barriers to U.S. glass and other exports would carry substantial benefit for both nations, creating more jobs for Americans and cheaper prices for Japanese consumers. However, Tokyo is concerned that a freer and more competitive market would eliminate inefficient businesses and cost many Japanese workers their jobs. That worry seems to be reflected in the Japanese trade minister's indication that he is now pessimistic about restarting talks on the prickly issue of autos and auto parts imports, on which no agreement was reached during talks in October.

So now comes the question of whether Tokyo merely appeared to cooperate on the trade agreements on glass and the other categories in order to escape U.S. trade sanctions. Was the real intention simply to buy time? U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor has said talks will continue for a limited period. He says there has been progress on all but three of 38 glass-related issues. Japanese officials separately have suggested an accord will be reached shortly--but is that tatemae- speak or honne- speak?

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