FOLLOWING THE VISIT here by the new premier of Japan, Yasuhiro Nakasone, trade negotiations will presumably enter a new phase. That, at least, was the hope exchanged with much hand- shaking. What is it, precisely, that Americans ought to want from these negotiations? Surely there is more to it than the lists of commodities--citrus fruit, beef, tobacco--that Americans are trying to sell more widely in Japan.
What Americans should want is a demonstration of a stronger Japanese sense of responsibility for the world trading system as a whole. Japan picked up a lot of dubious habits of mind in that period not very long ago when it was a poor country of little economic consequence. If Japan kept much of its internal market closed to foreigners, or if Japan ran highly targeted export drives, that didn't make much difference--in those days. But today the wealth and power of Japan give greater significance to those practices. It would be welcome to see Japan accept a commensurate obligation to keep the trading system in good working order.
But Americans shouldn't want narrow reciprocity. Japan's trade accounts can never be brought into balance with a country like this one because Japan, unlike the United States, has to import all of its oil and most other raw materials. Speaking of barriers to trade, incidentally, Japan would be glad to buy Alaskan oil but Congress has forbidden it.
If it seems unfair that Japan should sell more here than it buys, Americans might remind themselves that the United States sells far more in Europe than it buys. If Americans invoke the principle of reciprocity to keep Japanese goods out of this country, there are a lot of Europeans who would be eager to invoke the same principle to keep American exports out of their countries.
But Japan lives by foreign trade, and there is much that Japan can do to ease the strain under which the trading system is now operating. Japan can open its domestic markets wider, and it can usefully pay more attention to the impacts abroad of its export surges. It can, in particular, take more responsibility for its undervalued currency. Japan's position is that it cannot control the price at which other people trade the yen. That's true only up to a point. There is much talk in Japan about reducing interest rates to encourage growth. But reducing interest rates would drive the value of the yen down even farther. That might well be seen in other countries as an attempt by Japan to protect its own low unemployment rate at the expense of other countries. It's an impression that Japan needs to go to great lengths to avoid, in the era of stronger trade policy on which Mr. Nakasone hopes to embark.