Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone plans to offer no specific new trade concessions to the United States when he meets with President Reagan in Los Angeles next week, according to officials in Tokyo.
Nakasone and his delegation instead will stress steps that Japan has already taken to open its market, changes in exchange rates and the world economy that might cut the U.S. trade deficit with Japan, and a willingness to consult further.
His visit comes at a time when U.S.-Japan relations are smooth in military and political matters but increasingly turbulent in trade. Tokyo is under heavy pressure to take steps to reduce its trade surplus with the United States, which is expected to reach $35 billion this year.
News from the Tokyo Stock Exchange earlier this week could also cloud Nakasone's trip. A Japanese company outbid the Merrill Lynch securities firm of New York to win a seat on the exchange. It was a defeat for Nakasone, whose government reportedly had urged the exchange to favor Merrill Lynch so that the market would have its first foreign member.
In a lunch with American journalists today, Nakasone underlined positive aspects of the relationship and pledged to work hard on the deficit. "We have been making positive responses by holding consultations and talks," he said.
But he rejected a recent American government proposal that Japan adopt a specific target for imports to cut the trade imbalance. "That concept, I think, has an inclination toward managing trade. And as a free trader, I do not regard that as appropriate," Nakasone said.
Few analysts here expect dramatic breakthroughs during the visit, which will bring the Japanese delegation to Los Angeles for only one day, Jan. 2, and give Nakasone a mere three hours in face-to-face talks with Reagan.
Change comes slowly in Japan, particularly when it involves tampering with the system that has transformed the postwar devastation of 1945 into the non-communist world's second largest economy within a single generation.
In addition, the Japanese contend they are not to blame for the deficits and that rapid economic recovery in the United States has dramatically increased imports. At the same time, they argue, sales of U.S. products here are hampered by low quality, unfavorable yen-dollar exchange rates and U.S. companies' failure to market aggressively.
Next week's meeting was initiated by Nakasone. By many accounts, he wants to demonstrate at home that he retains access to and personal rapport with Reagan. Newspapers here call it "the Ron-Yasu relationship."
However, if the American side arrives at the table with a lengthy list of trade demands that Japan refuses to meet, it could damage Nakasone's reputation as a man who knows how to deal with the Americans.
U.S. officials acknowledge market access is improving in Japan, but feel that government and business often retain a fundamental reluctance to buy foreign products if a Japanese one is available. Paperwork and testing requirements amount to unofficial trade barriers as well, they contend.
The Japanese government often pleads inability to influence the decisions of companies and consumers here. But U.S. officials note that post-war reconstruction has been closely guided by such powerful government agencies as the Ministry of International Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Finance.
At today's lunch, Nakasone stressed market-opening measures Japan has taken this year and said manufactured goods imports were on the rise. In April and December, tariff cuts for industrial and agricultural goods were announced. Beef and citrus import quotas were raised. In May, another accord to open financial markets was unveiled.
Citing upcoming events of cooperation, Nakasone mentioned a "Made in U.S.A." fair to be held in Nagoya city, celebration of the 100th anniversary of Japanese migration to Hawaii, a tour of the United States by sumo wrestlers and selection of the first Japanese astronaut to join the U.S. space shuttle program.
He noted that the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan recently was appointed an adviser to a special committee of cabinet ministers set up to study foreign trade friction.
Japanese officials argue that a prime factor in the trade imbalance is the faster rate of growth in the United States over the past year, which has caused imports to rise quickly. But some economists here predict the situation will be reversed next year, with Japan growing faster than the United States and importing more, thereby reducing the imbalance.
They also blame the cheap yen, which makes Japanese goods less expensive to foreign buyers. The financial liberalization agreement announced in May is supposed to make the yen stronger against the dollar in the long run, and this will help further, Japanese officials argue. But they maintain competition is the key. "We are ready to buy any foreign product that is competitive enough in both price and quality," Deputy Foreign Minister Shinichiro Asao said in an interview today.
Nakasone also alluded to Japanese claims that many U.S. companies do not apply the time and investment needed to crack the local market.
"Just as Japanese businessmen try very hard to sell to the U.S. market," he said, "I hope U.S. businessmen also will make similar efforts here in Japan."
U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz and Japanese Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe will take part in the talks. Numerous staff-level conferences will also be conducted. Among the other subjects expected to arise are:
* Japanese auto import restraints. An agreement under which Japanese manufacturers limited their exports to the United States expires in March. Japanese officials maintain that no decision has been made in Tokyo whether it should be renewed, though industry sources here say the big producers that are prospering under the current arrangement are amenable.
* Pacific Basin Cooperation. U.S. trade with the Pacific Basin countries now exceeds trade with Europe. For years, ideas have been floated for special programs to foster cultural, educational and economic links between the countries of the region. Nakasone said today he wants to promote this process but feels that the initiative must come from the six countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
* Disarmament. Japan supports the arms talks scheduled between the United States and Soviet Union in Geneva in January. But it is anxious that any agreement not result in Soviet missiles being moved from Europe to Siberia, from which they could strike Japan. The United States has said it holds this position too.
* International trade negotiations. Both Japan and the United States have called for a new round of worldwide trade liberalization talks under the aegis of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. However, no talks have been scheduled.
* Defense. Nakasone's government is expected to propose to the Japanese legislature that Japan increase defense spending.