Clinton Frustrated With Japan on Trade : Diplomacy: Tokyo foot-dragging is perceived by U.S. The President might scrub scheduled ’94 talks with new prime minister.


In an apparent get-tough message to Japan’s new government, a senior White House official said Wednesday that the Clinton Administration is so frustrated with what it views as Japanese intransigence over trade negotiations that President Clinton may cancel a long-scheduled meeting with Japan’s prime minister.

The Administration has accused the Japanese of foot-dragging in failing to follow through on last summer’s agreement in Tokyo to establish a new “results-oriented” framework for trade negotiations between the two nations.

Almost as soon as that agreement was announced, a dispute broke out between the two sides on exactly what the pact meant, and that dispute has yet to be resolved.

The Administration believed it had won a Japanese pledge to comply with new and specific targets to reduce its trade surplus with the United States. The Japanese argued that they had never agreed to targets at all but only to more vague commitments.


Detailed negotiations to flesh out the framework accord in three specific sectors--automobiles, life insurance and government procurement practices--have continued but have produced no tangible results, despite a change of government in Japan. Under the trade agreement, President Clinton is scheduled to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa every six months to follow up on the trade framework hammered out at the Tokyo Economic Summit in July.

Clinton intends to go ahead with planned meetings at an Asian summit in Seattle in November, but unless some progress is achieved soon, the White House may cancel the bilateral trade sessions with Hosokawa scheduled for January or early February, the official warned.

“We don’t expect the Japanese economy to turn itself inside out because we are having discussions,” the White House official said. “But if we get to early December, for example, and you have not had any progress,” it will be difficult to schedule substantive meetings between Clinton and Hosokawa early next year.

“If we haven’t made any progress . . . we’re not going to agree there will be a heads of government meeting. Why should President Clinton have a meeting when nothing comes out of it? The important thing (for the Japanese) to know is that there begins to be consequences from a lack of progress.”

The threat from the White House comes just two days after a brief but cordial meeting in New York between Clinton and Hosokawa at the United Nations. The get-together was their first since Japan’s new coalition government took office in August.

But their polite talk only barely masked growing concerns in Washington about the pace of trade negotiations.

“I think the economic relationship is not well, and I really think it endangers the rest of the relationship,” the senior White House official said. “That isn’t a threat, it’s just that the other side of the relationship will erode.”

Hosokawa came into office pledging reform and vowing to open up the long-closed Japanese economy to American products--promises that prompted some early optimism among officials in Washington.


But the permanent and powerful Japanese bureaucracy remains strongly opposed to rapid movement in the bilateral trade relationship. “Rather than getting better (with a change in government in Japan) the atmospherics surrounding the talks have gotten worse,” the White House official noted.

“The senior people that we are dealing with on the Japanese team are senior civil service people who have been there forever,” the official added. “And they do not have the authority to overrule the interests of their own departments or ministries.”

As a result, last week in trade talks in Hawaii the U.S. negotiators warned the Japanese that they must take “drastic action” to improve the trade relationship or risk irreparable harm to U.S.-Japan ties.

But American bargainers found the Japanese still unwilling to budge during the Hawaii talks.