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Administration Lacks Strategy To Pry Open Japanese Markets

By James Gerstenzang
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

Despite President Clinton's tough talk about Japan's trade policy, the administration appears to lack both a grand strategy and a day-by-day game plan for prying open Japan's markets, according to government sources and trade experts.

In the aftermath of the unsuccessful talks Feb. 11 between Clinton and Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, a senior U.S. official admitted privately a week later: "We've been trying to figure out what to do next."

There is agreement within the administration on the need to confront Japan but uncertainty over how to do it and whether the get-tough approach will have the desired effect, senior administration trade and economic officials say.

Complicating matters are concerns within the administration that any display of a disunity will send misleading signals to Asia, where the United States is engaged on such sensitive military and political issues as opposition to the development of nuclear weapons in North Korea and insistence on respect for human rights in China.

Other administration officials insist that they do indeed have a carefully mapped strategy but are keeping it secret to put the Japanese off balance. They promise to begin unveiling a series of steps soon -- possibly as early as this week -- in their effort to keep the pressure on Japan to reduce its $60 billion-a-year trade surplus with the United States.

"The goals are clear, the strategy is clear and the tactics have been consistent," U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor said in an interview. "I don't think there is any doubt about what the administration wants to accomplish."