United States Ambassador Mike Mansfield has strongly urged Japan to open its markets wider to American and European goods.
Americans and Europeans perceive Japan as being unfair in the way it trades with the world, Mr. Mansfield said in essence. Last year Japan sold $18 billion more to the US than it bought from the US. If the global community is not to slide back into protectionism, Japan must take concrete action to convince its major trading partners that its markets are at least as open as those of the US.
''The root cause of economic friction between Japan and North America and between Japan and Europe,'' he said, ''is the belief that Japan's success results in large measure from a freer and fairer access to world markets than others have to Japan's market.
His remarks to a capacity audience at the Foreign Correspondents Club here Jan. 6, carry weight because he has never spoken out publicly so strongly before.
Hitherto he has used the prestige and influence accumulated during years of service as Senate majority leader mostly to explain Japan to Americans, to point out the reasons for Japan's economic success, and to urge his own countrymen to ''return to the old-time religion'' of hard work and self-sacrifice.
The newspapers here these days are filled with stories about resentment in the United States and West Europe caused by Japan's huge trade surpluses ($18 billion with the United States and $11 billion with the European Community last year) at a time when the West - but not Japan - is in deep recession, facing inflation, unemployment, and high interest rates.
As examples of American frustration, Mr. Mansfield cited bills before Congress that would require motor manufacturers to include at least 30 percent American parts in each vehicle they sell in the United States, or for an annual payment of 2 percent of its gross national product, or about $25 billion, to the US as compensation for American military expenses incurred in helping to defend Japan.
''In my view,'' Mr. Mansfield said, ''the bilateral trade imbalance is not the basic problem - it is only an expression of the real problem. The problem will not be solved by emergency imports alone or the restriction of exports. The fundamental problem will only be solved when and if United States and other foreign firms believe they have opportunities for access to the Japanese market equivalent to that which Japanese firms enjoy in the United States and elsewhere.''
While Japanese autos have 20 percent of the American market, television sets 20 to 30 percent, steel 10 to 15 percent, cameras over 30 percent, and motorcycles 90 percent, Mr. Mansfield said, ''aside from airplanes, there are no manufactured goods imported from the United States which enjoy as much as a 10 percent market share in Japan.''
Japan is no longer the weak, vulnerable country of the postwar recovery years.
''Japan must now participate fully in that (open international trading) system and work to strengthen it. In short, this means reciprocity by letting others, where competitive, gain market share in Japan by giving them the same kind of free and fair access to the Japanese market that Japan now enjoys in their markets.''
Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki's government has already announced plans to speed up reductions of customs duties, already lower than those of many of Japan's trading partners. He has ordered a study of non-tariff barriers to see which ones can be removed.
While applauding these plans, Mr. Mansfield urged the need for early, decisive action on Japan's part.
''Although both of us are responsible for managing ourselves through the current trade friction,'' he said, ''I must frankly say that the largest part of the decisions lie with Japan. Japan needs to take the lead - for the good of the international trading system and the Western alliance - in finding ways to make the fundamental shifts required so that foreign products have real and fair access to the Japanese market. This will not be easy, but it is crucial.''