Because of expected low sales by the U.S. auto industry next year, Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis yesterday called for a review of Japan's "voluntary" restrictions on automobile exports to the United States, adopted last spring.
Lewis also reiterated during a press conference in Tokyo warnings that if Japan doesn't slow its vehicle exports to the United States, Congress might do so through legislation.
However, Japanese government officials reportedly said they would not agree to a request for a review of 1982 exports. In addition, the president of Japan's automobile manufacturers association said his industry could not restrict vehicle shipments to less than the 1.68 million limit agreed to in April.
Takashi Ishihara, president of the manufacturers association and of Nissan Motors, said further limiting of exports to the United States would be "a life or death question" for Japan's industry.
On Tuesday Deputy U.S. Trade Representative David R. Macdonald said if trade talks scheduled next week in Tokyo, to be headed by Macdonald, are not satisfactory, the administration may support protectionist legislation against Japan.
Sen. John C. Danforth, who introduced legislation earlier this year to place import quotas on Japanese cars, said he is considering introducing legislation that would impose restrictions on Japan if the talks don't work out.
The car issue is revving up again after relative quiet because of U.S. government forecasts that American automakers will not be able to sell as many cars as they planned and that Japanese cars will continue to grab about 20 percent of the U.S. market despite the voluntary limits.
In addition, the U.S. trade deficit with Japan is expected to reach between $15 billion and $20 billion during 1982. In response to those projections Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki this week ordered changes in his cabinet to reflect his concern about possible political fallout in the United States resulting from the deficit.
Lewis told reporters in Tokyo that he gave a message to Suzuki from President Reagan congratulating him on his "fine cabinet selections." U.S. officials were impressed by Suzuki's intentions to help ease strained relations, Lewis said