Japan's trade minister said yesterday he is pressing for an agreement to extend limits on imports of Japanese cars to the United States before President Reagan visits Tokyo in November.
In what he said was an effort to ease a major source of friction between the two countries, Minister of International Trade and Industries Sosuke Uno called for further talks with American officials to settle the question of continuing the auto quotas for a fourth year, beyond next March.
"We want to make sure this issue does not undermine the good friendly relations between the United States and Japan," Uno said in an interview with reporters and editors from The Washington Post.
Extending the restraints poses tough political and economic problems for both governments. The Japanese automakers initially opposed any extention of restraints past the current year, fearing that doing so would cost them a share of the growing American car market. However, the government of Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone appears to have succeeded in pushing the car makers into accepting a fourth year of restraints with higher quotas. One possibility is raising the quota to 2 million cars from the 1.68 million-a-year limit in effect for the past three years.
American automakers, on the other hand, are divided. Three of the four major companies are pressing for an extension with no increase in Japanese sales while the fourth--General Motors--wants higher quotas that would include its made-in-Japan brands of small cars.
On other major trade issues affecting U.S.-Japanese relations, Uno:
* Revealed that the United States and Japan are likely to agree next month to eliminate tariffs on sales of semiconductors between the two countries, which together control the bulk of the world market for this high-technology product used in everything from washing-machine controls to electronic telecommunications equipment. The U.S. semiconductor industry has pushed Congress to remove tariffs in the hope it would open the Japanese market to their products.
* Promised to bring to the attention of the Nakasone cabinet American complaints about low sales to Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Co. despite an agreement designed to open up the Japanese telecommunications monopoly to U.S. products. He said he recognized reservations among some American companies over extending the agreement when it expires at the end of the year.
Extension of auto quotas was the major item on Uno's short visit to Washington, during which he met with White House counselor Edwin Meese III, Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige, U.S. Trade Representative William E. Brock and Senate Minority Leader Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.). He said it was the only issue in the trade field that he wanted to settle before the Reagan visit to Tokyo.
Uno said he discussed the question of auto quotas during meetings with Brock Wednesday and yesterday, but the two governments have not yet gotten into specific details on the key issue of how large the import quotas should be.
Brock has not acknowledged requesting a fourth year of restraints. He said, however, that he has pointed out to the Nakasone government that holding off until next March would place the decision on extending curbs in the middle of the U.S. presidential election, in which trade is likely to be a major issue.
The chairmen of Ford, Chrysler and American Motors urged a continuation of the 1.68 million car limits for a fourth year in a joint letter to Brock two weeks ago, on the grounds that the U.S. auto industry still suffers from the recession, with high unemployment and sales improving enough only to reach 1981 levels.
They added that Japan has captured a larger share of the market over the past two years than had been anticipated when the restraints were put into effect in 1981--22 percent instead of the expected 18 percent.