Japan Calls for Joint Initiative on Economic Ties to US

Article excerpt

Friendly foreign governments see a change in administration in Washington as an opportunity to improve their relationship with the United States.

So it is that the Japanese government is exploring the idea of proposing closer economic integration of the American and Japanese economies.

The powerful Ministry of International Trade and Investment and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are both seeking comment from trade experts in Washington on a new proposal: the creation of a consultative or study group of wise men from the two nations.

The two ministries differ somewhat on the specifics. Apparently Japan's government hasn't got its act entirely together.

Presumably a more precise proposal will be presented to the George W. Bush administration when it is in place.

Japan-US relations are important. In recent years, the American economy has been racing along while Japan's economy, the world's second-largest, has been loitering.

Like a commercial jet, the world economy flies more safely with at least two engines working at full power.

Now the US engine shows signs of sputtering. The Federal Reserve last week noted that "economic growth may be slowing further." So the prosperity of Japan could become much more vital to the world.

The Japanese initiative resembles somewhat the "open-market agreement" called for by Bruce Stokes, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. In a book, "A New Beginning," published by the council last summer, he suggested a 10-year deal aimed at opening up the Japanese economy to more investment and trade.

Tariffs are not much of a blockade to trade between the two nations. But bureaucratic regulations and informal decisions often keep the Japanese economy relatively uninviting to outsiders.

From Japan's standpoint, a new council might handle - in a less embarrassing way - the sometimes useful US pressure on Japan to implement economic and structural reforms. The US argues Japan needs to open up its financial, retail, agricultural, and other industries.

Economist Lawrence Lindsey, expected to be named Mr. Bush's chief economic adviser in the White House, has criticized the Clinton administration's use of gaiatsu, or foreign pressure, on Japan. "Japan-bashing by the administration has become a convenient way of appeasing some political constituency," he told the American Enterprise Institute Dec. 1. "In Japan, American tirades have become so expected that political discourse has moved away from creative solutions to domestic problems toward designing face- saving, and necessarily short-term, responses to American attacks. …

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