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In Japan, Trade Outcome Portrayed As Victory For Tokyo

June 29, 1995

TOKYO (AP) _ Japan on Thursday painted its new trade accord with the United States as a victory, saying it had upheld free-trade principles.

The agreement, reached late Wednesday in Geneva, was enthusiastically welcomed by the financial community. Stock prices jumped 261.61 points, or 1.79 percent, in the first 15 minutes of trading Thursday.

News reports and government officials made much of Japan’s refusal to agree to government-set quotas for widening foreign access to the Japanese auto and auto-parts market.

Instead, top Japanese car companies offered ``voluntary″ plans to boost purchases of foreign cars and parts.

In welcoming the accord, chief government spokesman Kozo Igararashi’s first observation was that it came ``without setting so-called numerical targets.″

Japanese press reports also played up the fact that the United States had backed off on its sanctions threat. Punitive 100 percent tariffs on 13 models of Japanese luxury cars were to have taken effect if no accord was reached by midnight EDT Wednesday.

Like the government, the auto industry also portrayed the agreement as a moral victory. Car makers hailed the fact that the government had not _ at least directly _ forced companies to buy American products.

``Japan has long insisted that setting numerical targets would lead to a managed trade,″ Toyota Motor Corp. chairman Shoichiro Toyoda said in a televised interview. ``The principle of free trade is being upheld.″

The major Japanese car makers did announce plans to increase production and investment in the United States and use more U.S. spare parts in vehicles assembled here _ both key U.S. demands.

Some of those steps had already been planned anyway, and commentators pointed out that the sanctions threat aside, there were sound business reasons for such moves. The sharp appreciation of the yen has already spurred the automakers to move more production offshore to cut costs.

``Faced with a 20 percent rise in the yen’s value against the dollar so far this year, the Japanese automakers cannot help committing to increasing production in the United States,″ political analyst Naoki Tanaka said in a TV interview.

Word of the agreement in Geneva came at nearly midnight Tokyo time, but all the major Japanese newspapers kept front pages open late and carried banner headlines Thursday morning on the auto pact.

Many Japanese had expected some last-minute settlement, the usual outcome in U.S.-Japanese trade disputes in recent years. However, as with many past Japanese-U.S. trade agreements, the two sides may wind up interpreting the wording of this accord very differently down the road.

Commentator Yoshitake Yamada of NHK television said the agreement was full of double meanings. But he said whatever its ambiguities, the pact represented a basic commitment to try to widen access to the Japanese market.

``It’s an international promise,″ he said. ``Japan must carry it out.″

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