Japan's trading partners offer Tokyo advice on raising imports. Occident is at odds with Orient over a trade gap favoring Japan
Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, here this past weekend to visit with President Reagan at Camp David, has been hearing a drumbeat of economic advice from his nation's trading partners. In effect, they've been saying: ``Get off our backs. Your exports are clobbering our industries. Make your exports more expensive by boosting the value of the yen even further. Pump up your domestic economy so your own people will buy more of your goods and also more of our exports. Then you will reduce that massive and unwarranted trade surplus.''
The advice came from ministers of several industrial nations, in Washington last week for meetings connected with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
Since the United States dollar peaked in value in late February 1985, it has plunged around 33 percent in value compared with the yen. The shift has hurt some Japanese exporters badly, particularly medium-size enterprises. As a result, the Japanese government has been resisting a further revaluation of the yen.
Prior to Mr. Nakasone's arrival, US officials last week diplomatically avoided any public suggestions for upgrading the yen.
But European officials were more frank. West Germany's finance minister, Gerhard Stoltenberg, noted that he and his West European colleagues maintain a further revaluation of the yen ``would be desirable.'' In an interview, he said: ``We also have a trade problem with Japan -- not as great as yours. But we have a [trade] deficit in Western Europe [with Japan] which is causing us concern.''
Dr. Stoltenberg welcomed the measures taken by Japan last week to strengthen domestic demand: The Japanese government intends to move more of its spending into the first half of the fiscal year, which began April 1, and engage in a more ``flexible'' monetary policy.
The German finance minister added that the Japanese ``want to achieve this [trade-surplus reduction] without endangering their growth -- and I can understand that.'' Still, Dr. Stoltenberg concluded that the Japanese have ``a difficult decision'' to make.
Canada's finance minister, Michael Wilson, suggested that Japan should reduce the tax incentives for saving in Japan to stimulate domestic consumption. ``Modest growth in Japan's domestic demand and large current-account surpluses are linked to a very high level of savings,'' he noted.
Britain's chancellor of the exchequer, Nigel Lawson, said: ``Practically everybody, with the exception of the Japanese, felt that the yen needs to go higher. . . . The Japanese are the biggest beneficiaries of the oil-price collapse, and therefore it would not be surprising if there were not some further appreciation of the yen.''
Whether President Reagan tried to twist Mr. Nakasone's arm on the yen's valuation was not made public.
However, the foreign-exchange markets quickly reacted to the public discussion of revaluation of the yen. The Japanese currency moved up Friday for the third straight day, to 178.15 yen for $1 in early trading. That was well below the 180 value the Japanese Finance Ministry had hoped to maintain.
From the European standpoint the development was not entirely favorable. Their currencies also rose in value compared with the dollar. The deutsche mark climbed to 2.2985 per $1 during trading Friday, compared with 2.3335 the day before.
This means that the Europeans will also have a more difficult time exporting to the US. They would prefer a further revaluation of the yen alone.
Ironically, it could be that the exchange markets are reacting to the Europeans' own calls for yen revaluation.
Meanwhile, the Japanese trade surplus continues to pile up. It soared to a record $6.6 billion in March from $3.19 billion a year earlier. For the year ended March 31, exports exceeded imports by $52.58 billion, according to the Japanese Finance Ministry. That is up from $35.07 billion the year before.