Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda today said he plans to send economic ministers to Washington shortly with proposals to reduce Japan's mammoth trade with the United States.
Japan has been under heavy pressure from U.S. officials not only to reduce its trade surplus with the U.S. - now running at an annual rate between $8 billion and $9 billion - but to stimulate its economy in order to boost its demand for goods across the world.
In Washington, Robert Strauss, the U.S. special trade representative, said that he was aware that Japan would send proposals to the United States "in the near future." Strauss told reporters he expected there would be "substantial" progress in reducing the trade imbalance with Japan.
Fukuda has just reshuffled his cabinet to show the world that he is going to take a more decisive role in reviving Japan's economy.
Japan also told its major trading partners in Geneva today that it is considering tariff reductions on certain goods even before the end of world talks on lowering trade barriers.
It is part of the new face the Fukuda government is trying to show the world and should be seen as Japan's contribution to the so-called Tokyo Round of negotiations for lowering tariffs and other obstacles to imports, according to Masa Sawaki, Ambassador to the talks.
In Washington, Strauss and European Community vice-president Wilhelm Haferkamp said the U.S. and the EC have "reaffirmed their commitment to complete the preparatory work of laying out the negotiations" in Geneva by mid January and beginning the actual negotiations after that.
Strauss said they have not reached much agreement on how to deal with subsidies and countervailing duties as they affect international trade. But in other areas, Strauss said, much progress has been made.
(Strauss said the issue of subsidies is one that must be resolved and that the United States has placed a high priority on reaching some accord. "We May not get an A-plus," Strauss said, "but if we come out with a C-minus we'll be doing well in this area. It is a subject that make for terrible tensions.
(Strauss and Haferkamp met with reporters after a bi-lateral review of progress at the Geneva-based round of trade talks, called the Tokyo Round because the agreement to hold multilateral negotiations was signed in Japan. The talks have been in progress since 1973, but only in recent months have countries made serious moves to negotiate hard issues.)
In Geneva, Japan's Sawaki said his government was considering tariff reductions for imports of automobiles, computers, color film, processed foods and other goods.
How much trade would benefit from the measures was not clear, although Sawaki told the opening session of the annual meeting of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade that tariffs could be reduced by as much as 40 per cent over the next eight years.