Sen. John C. Danforth (R-Mo.), who said he is "exasperated" and "fed up" with the one-sided nature of U.S. trade with Japan, yesterday offered a resolution linking the end of restrictions on imports of Japanese cars to "substantially increased" sales of U.S. products in Japan.
"The thrust of this is not the auto problem. The thrust of this a general unacceptable trade relation between the United States and Japan," said Danforth, who will introduce the resolution in the Senate next week after seeking a large number of cosponsors. Sen. David L. Boren (D-Okla.), who joined him at a press conference, already is a cosponsor.
Danforth insisted that any end of restraints on Japan's auto imports to the United States should be accompanied by increased sales of American products, mostly manufactured goods, in Japanese markets. The Commerce Department estimates that as much as $10 billion could be shaved off America's trade deficit with Japan -- which reached $36.8 billion last year -- if highly competitive U.S. products were not blocked by tariff and nontariff barriers from being freely sold there.
"We must see a numerical change, not just more talk, more promises," Danforth said. To force these changes, he added, "The United States must act in a way that causes Japan some pain."
In fact, further restraints on Japanese auto imports likely will cause internal battles among competing economic interests in Japan. Protected industries such as wood products and pulp, telecommunications, sophisticated computers and drugs and medical equipment will resist sacrificing their privileged status to help Japanese auto makers.
Danforth is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee's trade panel and is a free-trade advocate who helped the administration strip the most overtly protectionist provisions from last year's trade bill.
His move came one day after the Reagan administration began Cabinet-level discussions on whether to ask Tokyo to extend for a fifth year the so-called voluntary restraints on auto imports. Administration sources said no decisions were made at that meeting and no review was made of all the options, though none of the high-level officials supported a continuation of the quotas.
At the same time, high-level trade talks just ended in Tokyo as a followup to the meeting last month between President Reagan and Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone. American sources said the Japanese took a hard line despite Nakasone's statement that he is in "complete agreement" with Reagan's assertion that U.S. products should have the same access to Japanese markets that Japanese products have in this country.
The results of the Tokyo talks have been "totally unacceptable. Nothing has come of them," Danforth said.
"This is typical. We are now in a situation where we have lengthy negotiations with the Japanese and nothing happens and the trade deficit continues to go up."
He said the current trade deficit with Japan "is not acceptable. . . . It is a total breakdown of our trade relations with Japan," which he characterized as "all give on the part of us and all take on the part of Japan."
Despite his harsh words, Danforth said he recognizes that Japan is "a good friend and an ally" of the United States. But he added, "It is difficult to maintain a close friendship with a country that is taking you to the cleaners year after year."