On a quieter front, US, Japan make gains

ALL but forgotten amid the brooding and growling of the US-Japan trade relationship is a quiet agreement between the two countries to work together to address some pressing global issues.

A little more than a year old, the ``Common Agenda for Cooperation in Global Perspective'' is an ambitious program that deals with excessive population growth, threats to the environment, and other matters around the world. The initiative is an effort by the two countries to coordinate policy, the money they disburse, and research, and has already produced some results, including commitments to spend at least $12 billion on population and AIDS programs over the next seven years.

In July 1993, President Clinton and then Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa signed an three-part agreement called the US-Japan Economic Framework, which was supposed to pave the way to smooth trade relations. Under the Framework, the two targeted ``macroeconomic imbalances,'' such as the US budget deficit and Japan's trade surplus, and efforts to open Japan's economy to more foreign goods. The Agenda became a part of the Framework, which some analysts saw as Tokyo's attempt to link trade with other aspects of the bilateral ties.

So far, the first two parts have not been what anyone would call successful. Yet the two sides have made some ``rather sprightly'' progress in implementing the Common Agenda, says Michael Michaud, a United States Embassy official here.

The effort thus far includes:

* The agreement to contribute $12 billion ($9 billion from the US and $3 billion from Japan).

* Agencies of the two countries cooperating to develop transportation and pollution-control technologies.

* Japan's commitment to provide up to $1 billion in untied loans to Central and Eastern European countries for environmental programs.

The Agenda is, in part, a repackaging of existing programs and initiatives that the two countries would have pursued on their own. Nobuyasu Abe, a deputy director-general in Japan's Foreign Ministry, argues that the umbrella provided by the Agenda gives ``additional meaning'' to each country's programs. In the case of the population/AIDS funding, officials say their governments are now spending more than they would have on their own.

Officials from both countries, however, complain that the bad news about trade friction drives out the good news about their initiatives. US officials in Washington and Tokyo say the Japanese are perturbed that their substantial contributions have not received appropriate high-level recognition in the US. And officials on both sides say that the antagonism of the trade negotiations causes people in both governments to ponder halting cooperation on Agenda issues. ``I don't think we are at the point where we have abandoned it,'' says one State Department official in Washington, who spoke anonymously. But, he adds: ``If you're not getting the recognition that this is important, interest is understandably going to wane.''

Mr. Abe worries about the effect of the trade relationship on the Agenda. ``The difficulties we experience in priority areas,'' he says, referring to trade negotiations, ``sometimes spill over into this area. That sometimes poisons the atmosphere....'' Another US official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, says a few key words of support, preferably from the White House, are needed to maintain the Agenda and to keep the Japanese involved. ``We need to get endorsements from senior people to keep up the momentum or the momentum will die,'' he warns.

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