Japanese officials have expressed surprise at a statement by Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige that he ordered a senior U.S. trade negotiator to boycott talks in Tokyo this week to protest delaying tactics by the Japanese.
The Japanese denied any foot-dragging in the talks, which are intended to facilitate U.S. telecommunications sales to Japan, and said that the negotiator, Undersecretary of Commerce Lionel Olmer, had put off his trip because the two sides felt that more technical-level discussions were needed first.
The Japanese version directly contradicts the account by Baldridge, who said on Monday that he told Olmer to stay home to protest Japan's refusal to discuss the "nitty gritty" of the telecommunications trade. "I really thought we had gone over the fundamentals sufficiently in the first round of talks," Baldrige said.
Both governments agreed "to leave the problem in the hands of the real specialists, to let them study it a little bit more," Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications official Norimasa Hasegawa said today.
Officials said the two sides have been moving together in the talks. "There has been substantial progress and a deepening of understanding," a Foreign Ministry official said.
Privately, some Japanese suggested Baldrige's statement was politically motivated. "Again, somebody in Washington tried to manipulate the situation, provoke some type of sentiment, from I don't know whom," said a senior official in the Ministry of International Trade and Industry.
One U.S. trade official in Tokyo also suggested Olmer's absence was not particularly significant. A senior Japanese representative had just been through Washington, he said, and the feeling was that little would be accomplished by Olmer's visiting Tokyo so soon.
Trade talks between Japan and the United States, which are each other's most important trading partner, have often engendered ill will. The parties approach each other with conflicting negotiating styles, expectations and economic interests.
Japanese negotiators, in private business as well as government, often find their American counterparts to be uncomfortably direct and too quick to demand changes in an economic system that Japanese feel is functioning quite well.
President Reagan and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone agreed last month to look for ways to increase sales to Japan of U.S. telecommunications equipment and three other product categories. The goal is to reduce the United States' widening trade deficit with Japan.