Tokyo hints at plan to open its markets

Japan is hurrying to ward off growing American protectionism against its exports. On Saturday the Japanese government confirmed it will unveil an economic package April 9 that could give products and services from the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia greater access to Japan's markets.

The timing of Saturday's announcement was strategic.

On Thursday, the US Senate unanimously passed a nonbinding resolution to restrict Japanese imports unless Japan opens up its markets to foreign competition. The Senate was apparently irked by what it saw as Japan's limited concessions in restricting car exports to the US.

On Saturday two American envoys arrived in Tokyo. Yesterday Gaston Sigur, an adviser on Asian and Pacific affairs in the National Security Council, met with Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone. Mr. Sigur gave the prime minister a personal letter from President Reagan urging that a ``high level'' decision be made to resolve US-Japan trade frictions, according to a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman. Lionel Olmer, US undersecretary of commerce for international trade, accompanied Sigur to Tokyo.

The announcement of the April 9 package also comes just before the official breakup of Japan's government-owned telephone monopoly. Today the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Public Corporation becomes a private company, and US companies want a piece of the action. The Japanese government is expected to announce a separate formula today to give access to the telecommunications market, the biggest issue in US-Japan bilateral trade negotiations.

Finally, it precedes the April 11-12 meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, when Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe is to discuss bilateral trade with Secretary of State George Shultz.

Commenting on the Senate resolution, Mr. Nakasone said in a television broadcast Sunday, ``We must realize the seriousness of the [matter].''

The April 9 package is expected to include measures to cut tariffs; liberalize financial and capital markets; increase trade in services; give US firms a voice in deciding standards and certification procedures for imports; and increase economic cooperation.

While the measures will cover products from other countries in Europe and Southeast Asia, it is primarily aimed at the US, Japan's biggest trade partner. The report is therefore expected to include some of the four main areas currently being discussed in the US-Japan trade negotiations -- telecommunications equipment, electronics, forestry products, and pharmaceuticals and medical equipment.

On telecommunications, Japan and the US failed to agree last week on a number of points, such as registration or reporting requirements for companies wishing to start the ``value added network,'' an information service linking computers and telephone lines. They also got bogged down on technical certification standards for telecommunication terminals and the neutrality of the inspection body. US companies claim that the inspection group, which is composed of Japanese, would favor domestic firms over American firms.

Officials here, however, appeared confident last week that the Japanese government would settle the telecommunications issue by today. Since ``there is the time limit to do something by then, I'm sure something final will be decided over the weekend,'' a government official said.

The Japanese Health Ministry compiled its final report on pharmaceuticals and medical equipment Saturday. It is preparing to ease import inspection procedures and also to accept foreign testing data. Under current safety regulations, the Japanese authorities require foreign pharmaceutical and medical equipment manufacturers to carry out separate tests on Japanese patients because, the Japanese officials insist, the Japanese have different physical characteristics from Westerners and may react differently to such tests.

On electronics, the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry has already agreed to some of the US requests. At a US-Japan trade discusssion in mid-March, it agreed to submit a bill in the Diet (parliament) to protect semiconductor chip layout as well as to provide copyright protection for computer software. In addition, the ministry said it will study the possibility of removing tariffs on computers and computer-related parts.

On forestry, the Japanese Agricultural Ministry is still opposing US demands to reduce tariffs on such products unless the Japanese government prepares measures to protect the domestic industry.

Japan is also expected to lower tariffs on products from Europe and Southeast Asia. The European Community is asking Japan to allow more European-made imports, including telecommunications equipment, medical equipment, and electronics.

Former Ambassador to the US Yoshio Okawara told the press here Friday that Japan needs to give US products ``a fair chance'' if Tokyo wants to reduce trade frictions with the US. He also warned that the protectionist mood may get too strong for the US government to continue to resist.

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