WASHINGTON — AFTER years of watching their Japanese competitors successfully stalk the corridors of power in Washington, American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) and Motorola have decided to expand their lobbying efforts in Tokyo. Few United States companies maintain full-time lobbyists in Japan. Corporate leaders remain skeptical that lobbying offices can lead to new business there. International Business Machines Corporation has had a government affairs office for many years, but most high-tech firms are represented by a single person from the American Electronics Association.
Contrariwise, Japanese firms are legendary for their easy access to inside government information, often gained with the assistance of former US officials on their payrolls. And they have mobilized their US employees, consumer groups, and US users of Japanese equipment to argue against limits on imports.
US firms lack allies
With far less business in Japan, US firms have fewer allies to enlist in lobbying for greater market access. Moreover, because of the political logjam caused by special interest groups, aggrieved sections of Japanese society like consumers, who might otherwise be allies to US corporations, have little power to press for change.
A growing number of experts argue that the lack of expertise on Japan has hampered US efforts to crack that market.
``AT&T and Motorola have finally realized the need for Japan expertise in their boardrooms,'' says Chalmers Johnson, a University of California professor and noted critic of Japanese trade policies. ``It's 20 years too late, but better late than never,'' he says.
AT&T has hired Glen Fukushima as director of public affairs for AT&T-Japan. Last December, Mr. Fukushima left the United States Trade Representative's office after nearly five years as a top trade negotiator with Japan, including on electronics and telecommunications issues.
AT&T has maintained the public affairs post in Tokyo for several years, but the appointment of Fukushima, who was one of the few US government officials fluent in Japanese, represents a significant upgrading of the position. Fukushima will also direct AT&T-Japan's business development efforts.
Motorola has hired Ira Wolf as director of government affairs in Japan, a newly created position. Mr. Wolf recently left the staff of Sen. John Rockefeller (D) of West Virginia, where he worked for three years as a trade specialist. Before that, Wolf spent 16 years in the State Department as a Japan specialist, including two stints in the US Embassy in Tokyo.
AT&T and Motorola are among the most aggressive US companies trying to expand in Japan. With the Japanese market for telecommunications equipment and services booming, the stakes for both firms are very high.
Failure to compete effectively in Japan would provide Japanese competitors a sanctuary from which to develop deep pockets and a head of steam to penetrate the US market.
AT&T currently has 400 people working in 10 business units, and Fukushima said in a recent interview that its Japanese payroll is expected to top 1,000 by 1993.
Motorola's business in Japan is on a roll. Motorola has doubled its semiconductor sales in Japan over the past two years. Motorola chips are now designed into Canon cameras and Toyota cars. Motorola has also become a major force in the Japanese pager and cellular phone market.
Motorola declined to comment on the plans for its new lobbying office in Tokyo.
Avoiding surprises in Tokyo
Fukushima says his main job will be to stay informed about government policies that could affect AT&T. ``The most important thing is not to be surprised by some sudden decision,'' he said. This will involve cultivating contacts at the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, and other government agencies. But Fukushima says he will not hesitate to argue AT&T's case if a problem develops for the firm.
While experts like Fukushima and Wolf will deepen the skill with which their firms approach the Japanese market, Mr. Johnson believes they will still need significant backing from Washington to get greater market access. ``The lobbyists will probably spend a lot of time urging the US government to pressure Japan,'' he says.