Japanese auto makers have told the Reagan administration that they are unwilling to restrict exports unless U.S. auto makers and their union make some concessions to help themselves, Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige said yesterday.
"The Japanese auto industry feels it's being asked to make major sacrifices," Baldrige told reporters in the administration's first public statement on this month's special auto trade mission to Tokyo. He said the Japanese auto companies believe the American auto companies and union should say what they plan to do to help themselves before expecting help from the Japanese.
Baldrige again raised the specter of a presidential veto if Congress approves legislation to cut back Japanese imports to 1.6 million cars, 300,000 fewer than were sold here last year. Analysts expect about 1.8 million Japanese cars to be sold here this year.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bob Dole (R-Kan.) has scheduled debate on the quota legislation for May 12. He has predicted that the legislation will pass the committee and likely the Senate.
The administration has repeatedly stated its opposition to legislated import quotas, but Reagan has said previously that it would be politically difficult for him to veto the legislation because of its wide support in Congress. Baldrige said yesterday that Reagan hasn't yet made up his mind. "The president wants some strong help from the U.S. industry to help itself," Baldrige said.
The administration this month released its plan to help the auto industry recover from more than $4 billion in losses last year, partly as a result of the increased share of the market held by the Japanese. The administration's aid will take the form of the president's general economic recovery plan and the modification of 34 auto-related regulations. The administration has said no special tax relief for the industry is necessary, and Baldrige said yesterday that none is imminent.
The visit of the U.S. delegation to Tokyo also was part of the administration's auto recovery plan. Baldrige said its purpose was to brief the Japanese on efforts by the administration, the auto makers and the union to help the industry. He said no suggestions were made by either side about future levels of Japanese imports.
Officials have insisted that the auto industry's problem is domestic, not foreign, and the Japanese will not be asked to limit imports. However, administration officials also have said they would welcome any unilateral voluntary import restraint from the Japanese.
But Baldrige said the Japanese auto manufacturers told the U.S. delegation that the firms in Japan "shouldn't carry this alone" -- meaning make sacrifices without Detroit makiny any.
The Japanese didn't give the American delegation any list of concessions they wanted the United Auto Workers union or auto company executives to make, Baldrige said. However, he said, "They want the feeling that they're not sacrificing alone."
A UAW spokesman said yesterday that his organization had been briefed on the mission by Baldrige and said "it was very interesting."
When asked if the UAW would make concessions in their wage and benefit demands, as the Japanese would like, a union spokesman said, "The Japanese will say anything at anytime about anything. It's like Alice in Wonderland. Always tomorrow. Never today."
"We would never engage in any huge sacrifices to please the Japanese," the spokesman said. "We'll just keep our counsel for awhile."
Baldrige said it would be difficult for the union to make any major concessions because local union elections will be held soon and reducing worker benefits generally isn't a popular platform. He added that the administration hasn't asked the union or management to do anything, nor is it the government's function to make such requests.
When asked what kind of voluntary quota the administration would like from the Japanese, Baldrige replied, "We will accept whatever they come up with."