The president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan strongly condemned protectionist bills being considered by Congress today and said that their passage might lead Japan to respond in kind.
"Trade war is not the way to go," said Herbert F. Hayde, whose 575-company chamber has worked closely with U.S. trade negotiators in their bargaining with the Japanese.
Hayde's remarks came as Japanese leaders continued to debate contents of a market-opening package that Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone is to announce next Tuesday. Nakasone was reported to be planning to take some action on the government's refusal to purchase foreign satellites, a sore point with the United States.
In an interview, Hayde said he believed Nakasone and his Cabinet are serious about liberalization but are meeting strong opposition from Japan's traditionally powerful government bureaucracy.
Hayde was highly critical of many Japanese trade practices. Nevertheless, he maintained that trying to shut Japanese imports out of the United States to relieve a mounting trade deficit -- $37 billion last year -- is the wrong tack.
The bills before Congress could backfire on the U.S. by strengthening the hand of liberalization's opponents in Japan, according to Hayde.
"The Japanese are also capable of retaliating," he said. ". . . The attitude will revert back to protectionism. We will undo everything we have been trying to do all these years."
Protectionist action by Washington could cause serious economic dislocation and harm the United States' international standing, he said. "We are supposed to be setting the example for the world as great free traders," he said.
Hayde said that current negotiations to facilitate foreign telecommunications sales had produced "some good progress" but that large numbers of important issues, such as openness of the Japanese decision-making process, remain unresolved.
Hayde is also chairman of a wholly owned Japanese subsidary of the Burroughs Corp., a major electronics producer. His election as president of the chamber last December reflects the growing importance of high-tech companies in U.S. trade with Japan.
The current negotiations are meant to benefit the diverse collection of U.S. companies doing business here. By making it easier for them to sell, the reasoning goes, the U.S. trade deficit can be reduced.
At times the chamber has taken a more conciliatory approach to the Japanese government than have trade negotiators who travel here from Washington. Confrontation, some members feel, is often counterproductive in Japan.
But in the past year, the chamber has assumed more of an activist role. It began in 1983, when companies joined forces to fight an announcement from the government that it was considering legislation to limit protection of computer software to 15 years and give it power to force the licensing of certain software in Japan.
In January, Hayde was appointed as an adviser to a study commission set up by Nakasone to devise recommendations for liberalization. That represented a concession from the Japanese, who in the past have limited participation in such groups to Japanese nationals. He also has testified in the Diet.
Meanwhile, Cabinet ministers and leaders of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party met tonight at the prime minister's office to discuss Tuesday's announcement on market-opening steps. The government is hoping it will defuse hostility in Congress.