Tokyo bows to US pressure on trade

TOKYO - Hoping to break a six-week stalemate in trade talks with the United States, Japan yesterday announced a market-opening package carefully crafted to answer US demands, but leaving many details undecided.

But in Washington the US trade representative, Mickey Kantor, rejected Japan's proposal yesterday as a 'half-finished work' that did not meet President Bill Clinton's concerns.

Mr Kantor said, however: 'Our door is opened and we are prepared to work with our ally with this.'

Japan pledged to make it easier for foreigners to win government contracts and to sell insurance here, both key US requests. It also said it would decide by June on specific plans to bring regulations and standards more in line with world norms, another move to ease the way for foreign sellers.

Two more Japanese car- makers - Honda and Mazda - announced separate plans yesterday to buy more foreign parts, joining Nissan, Toyota and Mitsubishi in responding to US calls for an improvement in the car-trade imbalance.

Masakazu Toyoda, director of the Trade Ministry's Americas division, had hoped the package would provide an opportunity to resume talks. Japan hopes the US will agree to resume stalled 'framework' trade talks, which broke down last month when the Prime Minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, refused a US demand that numerical targets be included in trade agreements to measure their success.

Japan says such targets violate free trade. In yesterday's package, it agreed to go half way, saying it would gather sales volume and data on efforts by both Japanese and foreign companies to boost sales of foreign cars and parts in Japan, and 'take appropriate measures as necessary'.

Mr Hosokawa telephoned President Bill Clinton, on holiday in San Diego, and told him the package represented Japan's 'best possible efforts', officials said.

During the telephone conversation Mr Clinton expressed his condolences on the death of two students, shot by somebody who stole their car in a Los Angeles supermarket car-park.

The 19-year-olds - Japanese-born Takuma Ito and Go Matsuura, a US citizen who grew up in Japan - were film students at an arts school. They died on Sunday, two days after being shot. Ito's car was found a short distance from the supermarket.

According to Mr Ellers, the President expressed his 'condolence and sadness' over the shooting.

Tokyo said the regulatory reforms would focus on communications, retailing, pharmaceuticals, food and other markets. While making it easier for foreign companies to enter Japanese markets, the reforms are also essential for stimulating Japan's slumping economy and allowing new industries to emerge. Japan also announced yesterday that it was suspending a 13-year-old ceiling on car exports to the US because export volumes have fallen far below the limit in recent years, while production has risen at Japanese car plants in the US.

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