The 12-nation European Community yesterday threatened to erect import barriers against a wide range of Japanese merchandise unless Tokyo takes ``concrete and specific action'' to open its market to European goods. ``We expect the Japanese to take decisions, not just make announcements,'' the EC's external relations and trade commissioner, Willy de Clercq, told reporters. ``We want concrete and specific action.''
The warning, issued at a meeting of EC foreign ministers, came as Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone prepared to begin a four-day visit to Washington on Wednesday, when similar complaints about Japanese trade practices will be leveled by senior United States government officials, including President Reagan. Japan's trade surplus with the US rose to a record $58.6 billion last year, according to US statistics.
Earlier this month, Mr. Reagan slapped tariffs of 100 percent on $300 million worth of Japanese exports in retaliation for what the US claims are unfair trading practices by the Japanese. This raised the specter of a trade war between two nations with important mutual economic and defense interests. But it also concentrated the minds of many EC officials who fear ``trade diversion'' from the US to Europe.
At the EC meeting this week, ministers agreed for the first time to take ``effective action'' - if necessary - to prevent Japanese exporters from dumping goods in Europe that were originally destined for the US.
Officials here said that the EC would be reluctant to adopt protectionist trade legislation against Japan at a time when Europe needs Japanese investment to help alleviate high unemployment.
Officials said that the EC foreign ministers had agreed yesterday to hold a special meeting next month to decide possible measures against Japan.
Last month, Japan's trade surplus with the EC hit a record $2.1 billion, compared with a surplus in all of 1986 exceeding a record $18.6 billion, which itself represented a 52.7 percent jump over 1985.
The EC, de Clercq said yesterday, wants a swift dismantling of Japanese barriers on imports of a variety of European industrial goods.
So far, the EC has shown a restrained willingness to act against Japan if its economic interests appeared threatened. In February, for example, it imposed a 20 percent antidumping duty on most Japanese photocopying machines, which over the past decade have captured more than 80 percent of the $1 billion European market. Earlier this month, the EC announced it was opening a probe into the possible dumping of Japanese computer printers on the European market.
Already, imports of Japanese automobiles have been limited by several EC countries, including Britain (to 11 percent of the market); France (to 3 percent); and Italy (to a few thousand cars).
The Japanese government has repeatedly said it was moving to correct the country's trade imbalance with the EC, the US, and others by taking steps to spur domestic demand for foreign goods and reducing various barriers to imports.