A high-level congressional group widely respected in Japan said yesterday that that "the unrelenting Japanese auto export drive" has cost that country the good will of many previous supporters of an open trading system.
Rep. James R. Jones (D-Okla.), chairman of a House Ways and Means Committee task force on trade, said in a report that Japanese penetration of the American auto market (now 21.5 percent) is causing enormous economic and political anguish" that could lead to formal quotas.
Bluntly, the report labeled Japan protectionist on autos, and added that the current overall relationship on trade, in which the United States exports mostly raw materials and imports manufactured goods, is unacceptable.
"The data seem to indicate that (air-craft excluded), we are . . . Japan's plantation -- haulers of wood and growers of crops, in exchange for high-technology, value-added products," the Jones group declared.
It acknowledged that from an economic point of view a bilateral trade deficit should be of little concern so long as a nation's worldwide current account (goods and services) is in rough balance.
But the committee said this economic truth "is a political falsity" because congressmen up for re-election must pay attention to a trade deficit of the magnitude experienced with Japan. According to the report, the cumulative U.S. trade deficit with Japan has run to $47 billion over the past decade, "with no end in sight."
The United Auto Workers and some American companies have proposed resolving the auto problem by imposing quotas on Japanese imports in a petition for relief to the International Trade Commission.
Release of the Jones committee report follows a mission to Japan earlier this year and comes before a new set of hearings on trade issues and on Japanese industrial management techniques.
The report urged Japanese companies to exercise voluntary restraints on their exports here. It also renewed a suggestion that Japanese companies invest in job-producing facilities in the United States.
The report sharply criticized both Toyota Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. (which produces Datsuns) for putting off firm decisions on investments here.
"The result has been an enormous loss of goodwill for Toyota and Nissan and, more seriously, a major deterioration in United States-Japan trade relations," the report added.
The report said that "as friends of Japan and of trade, we regret that we have to say, 'We told you so.' We hope that our future recommendations and advice will be considered more seriously as advice from friends seeking to avoid conflicts."
Earlier reports by the Jones task force have had a wide circulation among government and business officials in Japan who welcomed their restrained analysis at a time when protectionist fever was rising in the United States.
Apart from autos, which the task force described as "the hottest issue," the report gave Japan good marks for becoming "generally an open trading nation."
And over the long term, the report bluntly laid the blame for the large bilateral U.S. trade deficit with Japan more on "domestic, American structural problems of competitiveness and quality" than on Japanese import barriers.
"It may be that the most important action we can take to compete with Japan is outside the realm of government action, and lies strictly with improved management by American businessmen which an result in major improvements in the quality of production and the morale of workers," the report said.
Japanese firms operating in the United States have been able to make a better-quality product than they make in Japan, according to the report. It cited the experience of the Sony management in San Diego, which said it ran for 200 days without a major television set defect compared with a record of only 100 days in Japanese plants.
On the import side, the report said that there had been a great deal of liberalization by Japanese officials except in the areas of agriculture and high-technology items. If barriers in those fields were eliminated, the U.S. trade deficit ($8.6 billion last year) could be trimmed by about $2 billion, according to the committee's estimate.
At the same time, the report recognized "some of the very legitimate reasons for Japan's export-consciousness and insecurities regarding sources of supply."
It suggested that Japan's export drive could be tempered by treaties guaranteeing Japan access to certain raw materials, plus redoubled joint U.S.-Japan efforts "to break the yoke of OPEC [the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries] and lead the world into the postpetroleum age."