Clinton's Trade Tactics Taken to Task, Home and Abroad US Threat against Japan Draws Both Support and Warnings by Many Experts

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THE Clinton administration's renewed threat of trade sanctions against Japan has stirred controversy among Washington policymakers and elicited rejection by trade partners abroad.

Many lawmakers view the so-called "Super 301" - a trade-law provision that allows the president to cite nations for obstructing free trade and to punish them if they refuse to remove the barriers - as a necessary measure against recalcitrant trading partners.

Others, however, see it as a damaging move that undermines the multilateral approach to trade disputes championed in the successful completion of the latest round of global trade talks.

Some advocates who seek to pry open foreign markets for more United States exports say many industrialized trading partners already practice "managed" commerce. They cite inpenetrable Japanese markets and trade blocs in Europe, such as rigid import quotas on Japanese motor vehicles. Super 301, they say, is a way to help the US play the game.

"It is a mechanism for America to develop its priorities," says Alan Wolff, a top international-trade lawyer and former US trade official. "It's a process that indicates why the US government is concerned about unfair trade practices and engages the private sector in helping it work out problems."

Japan has "a long history of papering over differences by signing agreements rather than taking action," says Michael Maibach, director of government relations for Intel Corporation, a computer-chip manufacturer. "They don't think they have a trade agreement until sanctions are imposed."

Jerry Jasinowski, president of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), hails Super 301 as a way to create "more balance in the {US-Japan} relationship."

Tokyo's barriers to foreign investment helps to restrict Japan's demand for foreign goods, Mr. Jasinowski says. He computes the world's stock of foreign investment: Europe has 38 percent, and the US has 26 percent. With only 0.4 percent, "no wonder Japan's manufactured imports are so low," he says.

In Tokyo on Friday, the undersecretary of commerce for international trade, Jeffrey Garten, told the Japanese Federation of Economic Organizations: "In no country are the barriers to entry so widespread and deeply rooted as they are in Japan. In no country have we been negotiating so long and so hard without success."

NAM and other powerful industrial lobbies want Congress to step up the pressure. At a Monitor breakfast on Friday, House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Lee Hamilton (D) of Indiana said Japan's market "may be the most closed in the world," but he opposed "managed trade" by "devising specific measurements of opening up markets. …