The Japanese government has agreed on steps to substantially increase foreign imports but remains divided on other measures needed to resolve its trade crisis with the United States, official sources said today.
The government of Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda was running into strong pressures to block the liberalization of farm imports, the sources said.
They also reported "harsh discussions" within Fukuda's cabinet over a broad new proposal to stimulate the economy so it can absorb the large quantity of imports that the United States has demanded it absorb.
Government officials refused to disclose what specific decisions had been made to open Japan's trading doors during a conference of economic ministers today.
There were reports that they had agreed to reduce tariffs in April on a variety of goods, including automobiles, computers and color flim.
Reportedly, they also decided to ease or abolish restrictive quotas on a number of items, including several agricultural commodities.
Officials refused to confirm the reports in Japanese newspapers but they described both the tariff cuts and the easing of quotas as "substantial."
From the comments of officials, however, it appeared that the government was more strongly divided than had been expected on some of the key measures necessary to reduce its big trade surplus.
Operating in haste since a reshuffling of the Cabinet last week, the Fukuda government had set today as the deadline for preparing its package of trade measures. The United States has insisted that the package be submitted this month.
But further meetings are now scheduled by Fukuda and top economic aides later this week. On the weekend, the new foreign economic minister, Nobuhiko Ushiba, is to fly to Washington to present the package to Robert Strauss, the U.S. special trade representative.
Ushiba said in a news conference Friday that Japan would make large concessions to meet U.S. demands. "I think that along the whole front we will do our best to liberalize our economy," he said then.
The major issue here appeared to be how much Fukuda will spend to stimulate Japan's sagging economy over the next 15 months. The United States has pressed for a larger stimulus. A key government official acknowledged today that without sufficient stimulus the specific import-increasing measures would be of little value, since there would not be enough consumer demand here to absorb many goods from abroad.
He described the argument as being between fiscal conservatives who insist on "budgetary discipline" and those who want to inject a very large stimulus, presumably through heavy spending on public works.
It appeared doubtful that the government would try to meet another U.S. demand involving economic policy: A specific date on which Japan's current accounts trade surplus would be wiped out or would go into deficit.An official said it was not clear whether the government would be able to make such an estimate by the time Ushiba leaves for Washington.
The other major sticking point for Fukuda's government is over the emotional issue of increasing imports of agricultural commodities. Some have proposed opening the door to more meat, dairy products and oranges, but those suggestions are being fiercely resisted by the Japanese farm lobby, which has great influence in Fukuda's Liberal Democratic Party.
One top economic planning official, Kiichi Miyazawa, indicated in a television interview tonight that there would be no dramatic changes in farm imports.
Government infighting over these issues was described in uncharacteristically dramatic terms by spokesmen who brifed reporters. One high government official said those measures already decided upon had been "squeezed out of the blood of each ministry."
While the Japanese concessions were described as "significant," the officials were cautious in speculating on whether they would satisfy their American counterparts.
It also appeared that the government does not expect the U.S.-Japanese disagreements to be settled finally during Ushiba's visit to Washington. The spokesmen indicated that they expect a return visit here by Strauss later in the month for the final resolution.