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Christopher Accuses Japan Of Breaking Trade Promises

By Jim Mann and Sam Jameson
Los Angeles Times
TOKYO

After making no progress toward resolving America's economic conflict with Japan, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher Thursday accused Japanese officials of breaking their promises by failing to negotiate a new trade agreement with the United States.

"I said simply that great nations keep their commitments," Christopher told a news conference following meetings with both Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa and Foreign Minister Tsutomu Hata.

In July, during a visit by President Clinton to Tokyo, Japan promised to bring about a "highly significant decrease" in its $120 billion-a-year trade surplus with the rest of the world and a significant increase in imports of goods and services from the rest of the world.

"No one would agree with the contention that Japan has met its commitments," Christopher said.

Christopher's harsh words appeared to represent an effort to place Japan on the defense in the continuing conflict over the two countries' trading relationship. They also reflect the Clinton administration's desire to shift public debate away from the details of the trade dispute and toward the question of whether Japan has violated its promises.

In an speech prepared for delivery Friday to the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, the secretary of state planned to press hard at the theme that America's huge trade imbalance with Japan cannot be allowed to last.

"For the world's two largest economies, agreeing to disagree is not good enough," Christopher said. "Acknowledging our economic differences must be a starting point for finally resolving them."

In fact, both Japanese and U.S. officials indicated Thursday that it was becoming increasingly unlikely that the economic frictions would ease any time soon.

Both Hosokawa and Hata explained to Christopher that Japan plans to come up with a market-opening package "with substantial meaning" by the end of March.

But they said nothing about a Japanese Cabinet decision Wednesday to delay announcement of portions of the new package until shortly before the G-7 summit meeting of the world's leading industrialized nations in Naples, Italy, July 8-10.

The Cabinet decision marked Japan's second step backward, in the direction of delay, since trade talks between the two countries broke down at a Feb. 11 summit between Clinton and Hosokawa.

On Feb. 17, Hosokawa ordered his government to compile urgent measures to increase access to Japan's market and Chief Cabinet Secretary Masayoshi Takemura said the outline of a package could emerge within a week. Eight days later, however, Hosokawa's government said that announcement of the measures would be pushed back to the end of March.