Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshio Sakurauchi pledged yesterday that his government will take additional steps "with a sense of urgency" to open the home market to foreign goods, thus curbing protectionist pressures here and in Western Europe.
Sakurauchi, on his first visit here since being named to his post last November, made the pledge at a news conference following two days of meetings with top U.S. officials and members of Congress.
Sakurauchi did not specify what steps Japan will take or when it will take them. He said that the new measures will be taken "on a step-by-step basis" and that he had not discussed a specific deadline.
Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) told the visitor in a meeting with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that specific movement by Japan to open its market in several fields, including computers, cigarettes, agricultural products and pulp and paper, will be necessary to head off restrictive tariff legislation in Congress aimed at Japan.
On the same theme, a senior State Department official, identified at Sakurauchi's news conference as Assistant Secretary of State John H. Holdridge, said "it's a race for time" between protectionist legislation here and Japanese actions to open its home market.
Holdridge said Sakurauchi approached the question in "a very positive and constructive manner" but gave "no ironclad guarantees."
According to a Japanese briefing, President Reagan told Sakurauchi at the White House Monday that it would have a very favorable effect on maintenance of the international free market system if Japan could take specific measures to open its markets by the time of the seven-nation economic summit meeting in Versailles this June.
Sakurauchi, according to this account, responded that Japan would do its utmost but gave no definitive commitment.
Following a three-hour meeting yesterday, Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. called the discussion with Sakurauchi "extremely productive" but noted, without going into detail, that "I did use this opportunity to express our concern about the current trade situation."
Some of the officials accompanying Sakurauchi expressed grave concern about the intensity of the U.S. demands for remedial action by Japan, saying a severe U.S. attitude of unrelieved criticism could bring about a powerful and negative response from the Japanese public. However, Sakurauchi expressed no such concern at his news conference.
In addition to meeting with Reagan and Haig, Sakurauchi met separately with Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige and Agriculture Secretary John R. Block and is scheduled to meet today with Special Trade Representative William E. Brock.
Japanese reporters were told that Haig recommended to Sakurauchi that the two of them, as officials with broad perspective, should take charge of negotiations on the trade question. Some other trade officials have narrow interests and tend to "contemplate their navals," Haig was quoted as saying.
In a prepared speech to a dinner of the Japan-America Society of Washington, Sakuruchi said some of the criticism about Japanese trade restrictions in its home market is based on outdated concepts.
"Records show that Japan has been opening up its market, and I do not believe that a particularly large number of barriers remain in such as areas as tariffs," he said. Business practices that make it difficult for foreigners are "based on a long history" and cannot be changed overnight, he added.
Nevertheless, Sakurauchi continued, Japan is determined to make progress in opening its markets. "We will continue to work steadfastly to this end, no matter how painful the process may be," he said.