American trade negotiators finished three days of discussions here today without receiving a commitment from the Japanese on immediate steps to reduce Japan's big trade surplus.
U.S. sources said no agreement was reached on any of the major issues raised, including the American request that Japan set a target date for wiping out its trade surplus.
[In Washington, American officials said they expected to hear within a few weeks whether the Japanese would agree to ministerial-level negotiations led by Robert S. Strauss, the President's special trade representative. But planners conceded no such talks were likely before late December.]
The stalemate raised serious problems for the U.S. side, which had insisted that it needed some specific commitments quickly and publicly.
The Americans had warned Japan that unless those commitments were made by the end of this year, a tide of trade protectionism will begin rising even higher in Congress.
They told Japanese officials that after the Christmas holidays, members of Congress will be under even greater pressure to vote for new restrictions on Japanese products coming into the United States and that a new round of trade conflicts would be set in motion.
U.S. officials had hoped for some form of a concrete proposals on the trade balance by today, before the talks ended here.
The absence of any proposal left the future of the negotiations in a state of confusion. Although both sides talked of "continuing discussion," no date has been set for another round.
U.S. officials here held out hope that something concrete might come from the Japanese in the next few weeks. They described the talks, in restrained language, as "friendly" and said more negotiations would take place.
This was in sharp contrast to earlier comments in which they had insisted that Japan should promise concrete proposals by the end of this year and should make a commitment on the balance of trade issues before the current talks were concluded.
The U.S. delegation had sought a specific commitment that Japan would bring its current accounts into balance by a certain date and would announce steps to increase imports of foreign goods.
Sources had said that the United States also was demanding a promise to stimulate the Japanese economy to reach an annual growth rate of between 7 to 8 per cent. Today, the U.S. officials said they discussed growth only in general terms.
The American officials also raised again the possibility that the two sides were so far apart that Robert Strauss, the U.S. special trade representative, would not make his long-planned visit to conclude and agreement this year.
Strauss, said one official, "wants to come to Tokyo, but he can't come until we accomplish a lot more work."
The American delegation was headed by Richard Rivers, who is Strauss' General Counsel.
The Japanese, throughout the talks, insisted it would be impossible to fix specific dates for balancing their country's current accounts and contended they could not project a growth rate of the size the Americans wanted.
It is estimated that the Japanese balance of payments this fiscal year will show a surplus of about $8 billion. Its economy is growing at an annual rate of about 6 per cent.
Japan's representatives also argued that they could not arranged an immediate large-scale increase in imported manufactured goods. Only about 20 per cent of Japan's imports are in manufactures now. To increase that proportion by an amount that could make a significant change in the balance of payments would virtually require a planned economy, they argued.
Japanese newspapers reported today, however, that the government of Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda had offered to consider lowering tariffs on some items, such as automobiles, which are deemed high by international standards.
In describing the talks today, U.S. representatives used a more restrained and conciliatory tone than in an earlier briefing with the news media.
One said the United States had made "no demands, only suggestions" and added: "The United States and Japan have solved many difficult problems in the past and I am sure we can do it again."