An influential advisory group proposed to the Japanese government Tuesday that the United States and Japan join forces to solve bilateral and global trade problems and jointly address a number of worldwide health, environmental and social problems.
The proposals were included in a report by a group of media, academic and business executives--including Sony Corp. Chairman Akio Morita--who were appointed by Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe in April in response to fears here that anti-Japanese sentiment was rising in the United States.
The report, which is also highly critical of U.S. trade policy toward Japan, was to be Japan's first message on trade to President-elect Bill Clinton. Moreover, it is Japan's first major trade initiative, a senior Foreign Ministry official said.
Its recommendations for half a dozen new bilateral committees and major new research on the U.S.-Japan economic relationship will be the basis for future talks between Watanabe and representatives of the new Clinton Administration, the official said.
The report comes amid rising Japanese trade surpluses with the United States and fears here that the continuing bilateral trade imbalance will hurt the U.S. economic recovery and increase pressure on Clinton to take a tougher stance in forcing Japan to open its markets.
Longtime observers of Japan, however, have little hope that the new proposals will help resolve the perennial trade problems.
"Talk doesn't cook rice," said Deutsche Bank Capital Markets Asia strategist Kenneth Courtis. "After 25 years of (Japanese) trade surpluses, we don't need any more studies. Everybody knows what the numbers are."
Japanese officials said they believe that participation in trade talks by top Clinton officials, including members of his new National Economic Council, will help prevent the politicization of trade issues and an American drift toward protectionism.
The group's key recommendation was the creation of a Japan-United States Economic Policy Conference, made up of Cabinet or sub-Cabinet level government representatives, which would be responsible for coordinating policy on a range of bilateral trade issues. The council would replace the Structural Impediments Initiative, an effort to remove fundamental barriers to trade that was the centerpiece of Bush's trade policy toward Japan.
The advisory group also recommended that:
* A committee similar to the United States-Canada Dispute Resolution panel arbitrate specific trade problems between the United States and Japan.
* Japan and the United States take a leadership role in the world to jointly tackle a broad range of issues, including drugs, education, the environment, AIDS, refugee problems and nuclear and other weapons proliferation.
One surprising recommendation in the report was that Japan develop laws that would allow it to retaliate on an emergency basis against U.S. trade sanctions in violation of international trade laws.
The proposal is a response to widespread expectations that the United States will make greater use of "Super 301" trade legislation that permits Washington to impose tariffs of up to 100% on imports from countries with closed markets.
The advisory report also warns the United States against drifting toward regional protectionism with the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement.
"The nations of the Asia-Pacific region are, on the psychological plane, feeling increasingly isolated and discriminated against," the report says.