The Carter administration is preparing a new effort to prod Japan into reducing its exports to this country and buying more U.S. goods - on pain of risking protectionist action by Congress if Tokyo does not accede.
Key administration officials are pressing for high-level negotiations with the Japanese, aimed both at reducing Japan's exports to the United States and opening the way for a sharp increase in sales of American goods there.
A subcabinet interagency task force has drawn up a list of demands to submit to Japanese officials. The talks are expected to begin shortly, with a view toward reaching a bilateral "understanding" by year-end.
A high-ranking administration official described the new effort as a "last of the ninth inning" initiative before both nation enter serious bargaining at the worldwide multilateral trade negotiations in Geneva in January, 1978.
The White House apparently is determined to be tough. Robert S. Strauss, Carter's special trade negotiator, is said to have warned the Japanese that if the talks do not succeed the administration no longer will try to prevent Congress from enacting protectionist legislation to resolve the problem.
The list of demands drawn up by the task force includes three basic points:
That Japan pledge to take the necessary steps to convert its huge trade surplus with the United States, estimated to run as high as $7 billion this year, into a modest deficit within two years. The United States has been pushing for such a move for months, but without any visible success. That the Japanese move on their own to reduce their exports to the United States to levels that would be more tolerable to American producers in a wide variety of products.
Officials say they want to see broad enough action so the administration doesn't have to seek piecemeal solutions by trying to negotiate voluntary quota agreements on specific industries, as it has with shoes and colour television.
That Tokyo take serious steps to open the way for a sizable increase in sales of American-made products in Japan - particularly consumer goods and agricultural items. Until now, experts say, only sellers of raw materials have had unfettered acces to Japanese markets.
Carter administration officials say they plan to demand that the easing cover a wide variety of products in each area, including agricultural goods. "This isn't just a matter of sorghum and silk here," one policy maker snapped.
Officials say American negotiators already have begun paving the way for the coming talks and are about ready to shift the discussions to policy-makers' levels. Japanese trade spokesmen were here last week for discussions on steel and other items.
The unusual U.S. initiative is regarded by policy makers [WORD ILLEGIBLE] ditch effort to put American-Japanese economic relations in order before the start of serious negotiations in the multilateral trade talks now under way in Geneva.
Those talks, recently revived by the administration after 3 1/2 years of stale-mate, are aimed at a general reduction in trade barriers throughout the world. But U.S. officials say the "Japanese problem," as they put it, must be resolved before the January meetings begin.
The effort coincides with tough U.S. pressure on Japan and Western Europe to slow their steel exports to this country. The administration is preparing to announce a new system of automatic temporary duties to be imposed on steel sold here below specific minimum prices.
The new U.S. initiative follows the failure of earlier administration efforts to persuade the Japanese to reduce their trade surplus. President Carter began urging Tokyo to take such steps virtually from the day he took office. But if anything, the situation has worsened.
The interagency task force included Strauss; Richard N. Cooper, under secretary of state for economic affairs; C. Fred Bergsten, assistant secretary of the treasury for international economic affairs; and Frank Weil, assistant secretary of commerce for international economic affairs.