Japan's powerful Ministry of International Trade and Industry will stress imports rather than exports from now on to remove its ''notorious'' image overseas, the ministry's new head has promised.
''The main problem now is how to increase imports, and further market-opening measures may have to be considered,'' said Sosuke Uno, in his first interview since assuming the MITI post last Friday.
In the first ministerial change of the seven-month-old government of Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, Mr. Uno replaced Sadanori Yamanaka, who resigned reportedly because of health problems.
A prisoner of war in Siberia, Uno returned from Russian captivity to enter local politics. He stepped onto the national scene in 1960. Previous Cabinet appointments included a stint as MITI vice-minister from 1966 to 1968.
Would he become as controversial a figure at MITI as his predecessor? Smiling , Mr. Uno said firmly: ''Yes. There are a lot of characters in the Nakasone faction (of the LDP, to which both men belong). We had been on the sidelines a long time.''
Nevertheless, Uno, in his first public utterances as MITI minister, has not repeated the charges made by Mr. Yamanaka that Japan's trading partners in the West are making Tokyo a ''scapegoat'' for their economic problems and lack of competitiveness in the world market. ''Trade frictions have some psychological aspects,'' he said gently.
With a trade war still a possibility - especially with a record trade surplus in prospect this year - MITI would conduct thorough discussions with its counterparts abroad about thorny issues, Uno pledged.
He said Prime Minister Nakasone had asked him to pursue the goals of stimulating the domestic economy, developing harmonious trade with other countries and promoting Japan's international role in an era of global economic interdependence.
Uno promised that under his stewardship ''notorious MITI'' would do its best to maintain cooperative ties with Japan's trading partners for sustained economic growth without inflation.
A few days before Yamanaka's resignation, government sources said the emphasis at MITI would now be switched from traditional export promotion, including financial support, to creating opportunities for more imports of foreign manufactured goods.
As the longtime ally of Nakasone, Uno is seen by political analysts here as likely to play an important role in promoting the premier's program for revitalization of the Japanese economy to reverse the depressed demand that is harming the import market.
Other countries should be left in no doubt of Japan's determination to reflate the domestic economy and make a major contribution to beating global recession, Uno said.