Japan's newly installed foreign trade minister said today his country expects to make large concessions to the United States in the next round of trade discussions.
Nobuhiko Ushiba said Japan is preparing a package of tariff reductions, higher import quotas, relaxed import procedures and other measures designed to bring more foreign goods into the country and reduce its trade surplus.
"I think that along the whole front we will do our best to liberalize our economy," Ushiba told a news conference here today.
He said that "even from the United States' point of view" the package of import-increasing measures may be considered a big one.
Japan's government is under heavy pressure from the United States and Europe to take specific steps toward cutting its surplus and opening its markets more widely to foreign products. Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda's reshuffled cabinet is expected to make the final decisions Tuesday.
Soon after that, Ushiba is to fly to Washington to explain the package to Robert Strauss, the U.S. special trade representative who has goaded Japan hard in recent days to change its trading ways.
Ushiba, a former ambassador to the United States, was named this week to the special post of minister for foreign economic affairs with the responsibility of negotiating with the United States.
His optimistic comments today were similar to those made recently by Fukuda and other government leaders who have promised to mollify the Americans by producing substantial changes in Japan's import system.
None, however, has said specifically what Japan will offer, Ushiba seemed to qualify his remarks somewhat by saying the world cannot expect any one nation to take "drastic" actions to solve trade problems.
He issued a further qualification when asked whether Japan would increase the percentage of its imported manufactured goods, now about 20 per cent and far below that of other industrial countries. That percentage would rise, he said, "maybe not dramatically but steadily."
Neither Ushiba nor any other official has offered to meet two sweeping demands made by U.S. officials recently - setting an official economic growth-rate target of 7 to 8 per cent annually and specifying a date on which its current accounts surplus would be wiped out.
Although its details are still secret, the new Japanese plan is expected to include the following measures.
A new 15-month budget providing for large and immediate public works projects to stimulate the domestic economy and increase demand for foreign products. It would cover spending for the last quarter of the current fiscal year and all of the next fiscal year, which begins April 1.
Immediate tariff reductions on some goods - such as automobiles, computers, color film, and processed goods - in advance of a broader reduction to be negotiated in Geneva.
A substantial increase in the Japanese quotas on several restricted products are a removal of some of the nontariff barriers which foreigners say make it difficult to sell in Japan.
The government is also considering making emergency imports of oil and uranium, which would be added to the national stockpile. This would have the effect of swiftly reducing the trade surplus statistics, although it would not help to satisfy U.S. demands for long-term increases in imports of manufactured goods.
So far, the government has said nothing about curbing Japan's exports to other countries. Ushiba said today that the rising value of the yen - which makes Japanese products more expensive in world markets - would automatically trim exports. The United States has not insisted on export reductions but has suggested that the government cease some of its agressive export-incentive activities to prevent sudden future increases.
The government also indicated this week it will act to increase imports of some agricultural commodities, a more strongly opposed by Japan's influential farm lobbies. Ushiba acknowledged today that that is a politically difficult thing to do.
But he predicted there will be "no real broad opposition" to the government's program, when it is announced. Public support for a way out of the trade dilemma "is much stronger than before," he said.