The Reagan administration should take strong retaliatory measures against Japan if new Japanese regulations fail to allow foreign companies access to its telecommunications market, a senior U.S. Chamber of Commerce official said yesterday.
"I think the U.S. government will make a great mistake if it doesn't retaliate in some way," said Michael A. Samuels, the Chamber's principal spokesman on international economic issues.
Among possible courses of action Samuels suggested for the Reagan administration were the imposition of standards or quality certification on products in a way that would limit Japanese imports, or the restriction of Japanese imports to specific entry points. Japan's system of standards and certifications is used as a barrier to foreign products, while France once said all Japanese video cassette recorders had to pass through a small inland customs post.
The extremely strong statement on U.S.-Japanese trade relations is a turnaround for Samuels and the Chamber, which regularly espouse a free trade philosophy and attack protectionist proposals.
"If Japan closes its telecommunications market," Samuels said, "many groups such as ours will have to rethink their long-standing positions on trade in general and Japan in particular."
Samuels said his view reflects an intensified level of frustration among American businessmen dealing with Japan. That increased frustration also has emerged among Reagan administration officials.
The frustration level intensified with the publication last month of last year's record $123.3 billion trade deficit -- $36.8 billion from Japan alone.
Samuels said Japan's telecommunications regulations, scheduled to come out April 1, are viewed as a litmus test of Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone's pledge to President Reagan to open Japan's markets to foreign products.
Japan's telecommunications market, the second-largest in the world, has become a prime target for highly competitive U.S. firms since legislation passed late last year ended the government monopoly and opened the field to competition. While the new rules can provide unparalleled access, there are concerns that Japan will use them to shut out foreign companies as it has in other sectors where its domestic companies face tough competition.
Although the draft regulations remain secret, U.S. officials said preliminary indications are that they will restrict foreign products. Japanese officials deny this.
This new level of frustration, which Samuels said is far higher this year than last, surfaced earlier this month during the meeting in Hawaii of the Japan-U.S. Business Conference, where tough talk replaced the usual polite airing of differences between leading industrialists from the two nations.
"The American side realized that Japan isn't moving fast enough as a major trading nation to do what it can to solve" the trade problems between the two nations, Edson W. Spencer, chairman of Honeywell Inc. and head of the U.S. portion of the joint conference, said yesterday in an interview.
"What Japan is hearing from this country is much stronger than what it has heard before," Samuels said. "What Japan heard this month in Hawaii is the strongest statement of concern ever heard from American business."