US and allies take load off strained trade relations
Settlement of the longstanding dispute over Japan's import quota for American beef and oranges has implications that go far beyond agricultural trade. The compromise solution reached in Washington last weekend, when it first seemed the two sides were again in deadlock, should improve the atmosphere for future trade talks, officials here said.
But some analysts say the settlement is likely to encourage the United States to step up its pressure on Japan to resolve other pending economic issues.
The amounts of beef and oranges involved are not particularly significant. Over each of the next four years Japan will import an extra 6,900 metric tons of beef and 11,000 metric tons of oranges a year. This still falls short of the original US demand for total import liberalization.
But the agricultural trade dispute has become symbolic, particularly for the Americans, of Japan's genuine willingness to move toward opening its markets in general.
Now the way is clear to seek some progress on the larger issues, such as American efforts to persuade Japan to internationalize the yen, liberalize its financial and capital markets, and ease import restrictions on a wide range of high-technology items, diplomatic sources said.
Some analysts are also stressing the broader political implications of the Washington agreement.
Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone will now have to placate Japan's powerful rural lobby, which is bitterly opposed to any concessions to the Americans. A farmers' organization recently took out full-page advertisements in Japanese and American newspapers to express the farmers' opposition.
With Nakasone's ruling Liberal Democratic Party heavily dependent on the rural vote to stay in office, the feelings of the farmers cannot easily be overlooked.
This November, Nakasone will seek a second two-year term as president of the Liberal Democrats, and political analysts say his reelection is no longer a foregone conclusion.
Some of his major rivals are from key agricultural districts.
At the same time, Nakasone has to consider his image in Washington. There is some feeling in Tokyo that, despite the settlement of the beef and orange dispute, the premier has been found wanting in American eyes.
In reports from Washington, a number of leading Japanese newspapers stressed that one of the lessons the US may have learned from the agricultural trade issue is that the Reagan administration may have placed too much expectation on Nakasone as a different type of Japanese leader than in the past - one who spoke straight and got things done.
The daily Asahi Shimbun, for example, reported that when the talks between US trade representative William Brock and Japanese Agriculture Minister Shinjiro Yamamura temporarily broke off in deadlock last Friday, some US officials spoke of their sense of trust in Nakasone having been damaged. Others said it was wrong to rely so heavily on the personal relationship built up between President Reagan and Mr. Nakasone.
There were also complaints that the Japanese premier hid behind working-level efforts to reach a settlement, evading his responsibility to take the lead in settling important national issues.
This may be too hard on Nakasone.
Officials here point out that it is the Japanese way to explore a problem at working level until a solution is obviously in sight - at which stage the leading figure (Mr. Yamamura in this case) steps forward to add the final touches. This is done to avoid losing face in public, should negotiations end in failure.
Nakasone sent his agriculture minister to Washington because he believed a settlement was imminent, the officials said. When Yamamura telephoned Tokyo to report the breakdown of his talks with Mr. Brock and his desire to return home, the prime minister was reportedly horrified.
He ordered Yamamura to resume the talks and achieve a solution at any cost because a collapse of the negotiations at this stage would badly damage Nakasone's image in American eyes, well-informed sources said.
In one sense, the beef-orange settlement may complicate other negotiations, some analysts say. They see it encouraging some Americans in their belief that ''the only way to succeed with the Japanese is to push them around.''
However, the Foreign Ministry takes a more positive attitude, believing the weekend settlement has cleared the air and created opportunities to cement closer Washington-Tokyo ties with less of the emotionalism that has been evident recently.
Japanese Foreign Ministry officials are particularly happy with the results of the latest Gallup poll, released Sunday, showing 57 percent of American respondents believe Japan is a reliable ally - 13 percent more than last year. Those who regard Japan as untrustworthy dropped 9 points to 24 percent.