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Oil Imports Weigh US Economy Down

WHILE President Bush's trip to Asia brought the United States auto industry's problems into sharp focus, analysts say the economy could get more long-term help by cutting its huge oil deficit.

But analysts see little willingness in Washington to stem the country's growing dependence on imported oil.

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"It is not so much a question of Japan not buying enough Chryslers, Fords, and Chevys. More fundamentally, the US is suffering a deficit in which oil plays a major part," said Elihu Bergman, executive director of Washington-based Americans for Energy Independence.

Analysts said increasing US reliance on foreign oil is the result of the natural decline in domestic reserves and a failed energy policy. They said efforts to boost US output would be blocked by environmentalists trying to protect ecologically fragile areas in Alaska and off the California coast.

Much lower drilling costs abroad have sent major US oil companies exploring overseas rather than at home. And attempts to cut demand through gasoline taxes have proved unpopular with Americans and have failed in Congress.

With foreign oil so much cheaper than domestic sources, it is unlikely the United States will violate free-trade policies to block imports.

But analysts said the US does not have to fall victim to dwindling reserves and they point to Japan, which imports 99 percent of its oil but has set up a program to encourage energy efficiency and diversify its fuel sources.

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