WASHINGTON (AP) _ Japanese consumers are paying far too much for beef and citrus products because of trade barriers that Tokyo has thus far refused to lower despite repeated appeals, American officials said Tuesday.

''We still have to hear from the Japanese on their willingness to liberalize beef and citrus,'' Agriculture Secretary Richard E. Lyng told a news conference called to focus attention on an upcoming deadline.

A four-year agreement under which the United States has not challenged Japanese quotas on imports of American beef and citrus expires on March 31, and U.S. trade officials have been pressing for an end to the import curbs.

Japanese officials have been saying that wiping out the quotas would mean a deluge of American citrus and beef that would doom their smaller producers.

Lyng and U.S. Trade Representative Clayton K. Yeutter said American navel oranges that sold for 33 cents each in Washington on March 1 were selling for 65 cents each in Tokyo.

Grapefruits selling for 32 cents each in Washington sold for 73 cents in Tokyo on the same day, they said, and consumers in the nation's capital were paying $4.99 a pound for strip sirloin while consumers in Japan's capital were paying $20.56 a pound for comparable steak.

Yeutter said it was uncertain whether eliminating the import curbs would mean unemployment in the beef and citrus sectors of Japanese agriculture. He said it would depend ''on whether our Japanese friends are resilient'' enough to cope with intensified competition.

If some unemployment resulted, ''that's the price we pay for a free and open trading system,'' Yeutter said. ''We've had some adjustment too.''

One option open to the United States would be to seek a ruling against the Japanese for unfair trade practices under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the officials said. They said another would be to start action possibly leading to retaliation against the Japanese barriers.

Lyng said there would be little the Japanese could do by way of retaliation against any such U.S. action.

''A country that enjoys such a favorable trade balance with the United States is in no position'' to bring too much pressure against this country, Lyng said.