Japanese Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda arrived here late yesterday for the start of two days of talks with top American officials, aimed at resolving continuing U.S.-Japanese differences on economic and trade issues.
Fukuda is scheduled to meet separately today with President Carter and Special Trade Representative Robert S. Strauss, and then confer informally with congressional leaders.
The prime minister is being accompanied by Nobuhiko Ushiba, the recently appointed Japanese minster of external trade affairs, who was named as a counterpart to Strauss.
Fukuda is expected to discuss why Japan now seems unlikely to meet the 7 per cent economic growth target it promised the U.S. last December as a way toreduce its hugh trade and current account surpluses.
Although the Japanese still have not abandoned that target formally, unofficial estimates show the Japanese growth rate is more likely tor each on 5.5 per cent at best - not enough to slash its trade surplus sufficiently.
The U.S. also is expected to press Fukuda to liberalize the relatively modest tariff reductions Japan has proposed in the multilateral trade negotiations now underway in Geneva.
Japan had promised sweeping tariff reductions, but U.S. officials feel the latest proposals for cuts aren't large enough, particularly in product lines where this country is interested in exporting to Japan.
At the same time, Fukuda is considered likely to express concern about the continued slide of the U.S. dollar, which has sent the Japanese yen soaring - making Tokyo's exports less-competitive here.
Fukuda has been hit by a deluge of criticism from Japanese pressure groups over the past several months for trying to carry out his pledge to pare back Japan's trade surplus in the face of an economic pinch at home.
The prime minister is said to be help bolster his position among Japanese voters. Japan is expected to hold looking forward to this week's visit to another round of elections soon, possible early this summer.
The talks between Fukuda and Carter also are likely to be the last the two will hold before the seven-nation economic summit convference in Bonn this summer. Many of the issues the two plan to discuss also may come up then.
American officials tried yesterday to play down the differences between the two countries. Strauss asserted the Japanese have been "doing their very best" and "shown they have the political will" to carry out their pledge.
However, officials said privately that while the situation is not at the critical stage, the U.S. will press firmly to prod the Japanese toward liberalizing their tariff-cut proposals.
Japan promised in December that its current account surplus, thought then to be $10 billion for fiscal 1977, would be pared to $6 billion by fiscal 1978. But the 1977 surplus turned out to be $14 billion.
Japan's new finance minister. Tatsuo Murayama, told reporters at the International Monetary Fund meeting in Mixico City last weekend that Japan still "would like to aim at" the $6 billion target "and come as close as possible."
Along with the more serious issues, Japanese officials also are expected to dispense some political largesse during their 2 1/2-day stay here, announceing a eries of new grants and gifts to institutions.
Included on the gift list are $10 million in grants to the $18 million-a-year United nations High Commission for Refugees, which deals primarily with displaced persons from Southeast Asia.
The delegation also is scheduled to announce a $1.5 million grant to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and a $1 million gift to the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs in Minneapolis.