The European Community flexed its pre-Venice Summit muscles this past week. It moved to stem the rising flow of imports from Japan and warned the United States it would strike back against any protectionist trade legislation harmful to European interests. At a meeting here, EC foreign ministers agreed to impose stiff import tariffs on a range of Japanese consumer products unless Tokyo took steps to open its market to more European goods.
``This agreement leaves no doubt as to the community's determination,'' said Willy de Clercq, the EC's external relations commissioner, after the meeting May 26.
EC officials stressed that no immediate action was in sight. But the warning was seen as very sharp in light of the meeting of world leaders, including those from the US, Japan, and Western Europe's leading industrial economies, June 8-10 in Venice. There, Japan's huge and still-blossoming trade surplus with the rest of the globe is expected to be high on the agenda.
Pre-Venice muscle-flexing was also said to have played a part in the EC's promise to retaliate if - in the words of the EC foreign ministers - the ``protectionist tendencies'' in a new trade bill before the US Congress make their way into law.
The administration of US President Ronald Reagan has vowed to veto such legislation. But the EC continues to be worried, and its warning here was clearly meant to persuade President Reagan to reiterate that pledge in the strongest terms at the Venice summit.
``All we know is that whatever comes out of [the US] Congress will not be very good,'' the EC's Mr. de Clercq said.
Regarding Japan, EC diplomats said the ministers had agreed to introduce new tariffs on Japanese compact disk players, amplifiers, video-recorder parts, digital audio-tape recorders and microwave ovens if Tokyo fails to take action to increase sales of European goods on the Japanese market.
The EC has grown increasingly angry with Japan, whose trade surplus with the 12-nation community continues to rise to record levels. Japanese exporters stand to gain yet-another $1.2 billion a year from lower industrial tariffs in Spain and Portugal resulting from their recent entry into the EC.
The EC this past week also warned Japan that it will impose prohibitive tariffs on imports of Japanese personal computers, color television sets, and power tools if it finds evidence that these products are being diverted to Western Europe from the US, where they now face duties of 100 percent.