US Airs Complaints With Asian Partners

THE United States has had several bones to pick with its trading partners at the meeting here of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC).

In a Wednesday speech, Secretary of State Warren Christopher said America's economic relationship with Japan was ``in urgent need of repair.'' The problem is the bulging trade deficit that refuses to go away. Japan accounted for more than half of a $95 billion trade deficit that the US posted with APEC nations. The Clinton administration has taken an aggressive stance toward Japan, urging concrete changes in specific sectors of the economy.

The US also wants to see greater market access in China, where US exports have failed to keep pace with skyrocketing Chinese exports to the US. In a meeting with his Indonesian counterpart, Mr. Christopher went to bat for several specific US firms, including General Motors and Exxon, which want to do business there.

While tough talk is the order of the day in bilateral meetings, the APEC group takes a looser, consensus-building approach. It represents a regional level of trade policy that stands between the worldwide General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and single-country dealmaking.

Only four years old and with a $2 million annual budget, APEC has not yet made a big mark. The organization has 10 working groups and this week is forming a special committee on trade and investment. Together these committees plan to bring down trade barriers, simplify customs policies, standardize telecommunications, and streamline investment rules.

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