The pre-trade war posturing has begun.
In a move authorized yesterday by President Clinton, United States Trade Representative Mickey Kantor has increased the pressure on Japan to open its markets to US auto products.
Mr. Kantor proposed trade sanctions, including tariffs on billions of dollars of luxury cars and other carefully targeted Japanese imports.
But the sanctions will not go into effect for at least 30 days, thereby giving the two countries' trade negotiators a deadline to hammer out differences. Talks in Canada broke down last week.
The US will also lodge a complaint with the new World Trade Organization (WTO). In what would be a key test for the fledgling WTO Japan has pledged to challenge any US trade sanctions. A final WTO decision could take months.
Trade experts differ on the magnitude of yesterday's action. ''Both sides have gotten themselves in positions where it is hard to back down,'' says James Abegglen, chairman of Gemeni Consulting in Japan.
But many say there is little difference from past trade standoffs. ''If you go back in history there have been other bust-ups just as big,'' said Robert Feldman, chief economist at Salomon Brothers Asia. ''Both countries know they need each other in other areas.''