Cellphones to be first US target

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THE CLINTON administration yesterday formally opened trade hostilities against Japan by ruling that it had broken nearly 10 years of promises to open up its cellular-phone market to American companies. The move clears the way for sanctions against Tokyo.

At a news conference the US Trade Representative, Mickey Kantor, said counter-measures would be ready within a month, for use if the complaint, brought by the Motorola company in 1989, was not resolved. These seem bound to include higher tariffs on imported Japanese cellular phones, but are likely to be part of a broader package after the collapse last week of trade talks between the two nations.

Setting out every twist of Motorola's vain efforts since 1982 to enter the Japanese market, Mr Kantor bluntly accused Japan of a 'clear-cut and serious failure to honour its commitments'. It was 'false and disingenuous' for Japan to maintain that the US company was not competitive. Motorola was a pioneer and 'global front-runner' in the cellular- phone industry. Tokyo had 'deliberately used regulatory and non-regulatory means to preserve market barriers'.

According to White House officials, President Clinton is now set to re-activate the so- called 'Super 301' proviso allowing the US to take reprisals against countries that systematically engage in 'unfair' trading practices. US business and financial leaders are urging caution, fearing a full-scale trade war. But if Washington is to retain credibility after its recent threats, it is bound to do something.

The cellular-phone grievance is not directly related to the central dispute: the refusal of Tokyo to accept US demands for numerical targets to measure progress in opening Japanese markets to American goods. But yesterday's deadline for the Motorola ruling meant it would be a sure signal of Washington's intentions.