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Minister Asks Cabinet to Help Ease Import Restrictions

April 23, 1985

TOKYO (AP) _ The foreign trade minister told the Cabinet on Tuesday he would take immediate steps to lift import restrictions, but asked other ministries for help in easing the trade crisis with the United States and other allies, a ministry spokesman said.

One step mentioned by Keijiro Murata, minister of international trade and industry, was a lowering of tariffs by the Finance Ministry, said the official, who spoke on condition he not be identified.

As part of efforts to cut Japan’s huge trade surpluses, Murata called in executives of 60 leading Japanese companies Monday and asked each to submit a plan by mid-May for increasing imports of foreign-made goods.

His actions are part of a government import drive initiated by Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, who announced a package of market-opening measures two weeks ago and asked citizens to buy more imported goods.

Japan’s trade surplus last year reached $36.8 billion with the United States and $10.7 billion with the European Economic Community, according to U.S. Commerce Department and Japanese Finance Ministry figures.

The ministry official said Murata told fellow ministers Tuesday: ″I have instructed my ministry to purchase for official use two foreign cars, one each from the United States and Europe. I have heard that senior staff at the ministry have decided to buy foreign goods worth more than $100.″

Nakasone said in his announcement of the trade package that if every Japanese bought that amount of foreign goods, the trade surplus would be reduced by $12 billion.

The Kyodo news agency said several ministers raised questions about high prices and delayed deliveries of imported goods.

It said Labor Minister Toshio Yamaguchi complained that took seven months to get a foreign car after placing an order, and ″a similar situation exists with helicopters.″

Masaharu Gotoda, director-general of the Management and Coordination Agency, told the meeting, ″I went to a department store the other day but there was nothing to buy because they (imported goods) were too expensive,″ the agency reported.

It said Ippei Kaneko, director-general of the Economic Planning Agency, maintained that about 60 percent of the prices of imported goods were markups added by the Japanese distributors.

A group of 22 senior government officials met for the first time Tuesday to work out details of an ″action program″ to give foreign products easier access to the Japanese market.

An official at the Economic Planning Agency said the meeting of bureau chiefs outlined a rough schedule for medium-term measures to be announced in July.

The officials agreed to work on complicated inspection systems and standards for imports, the official said, and are scheduled to make a preliminary report in May or June.

In another development, private sector leaders from the industrialized democracies called Tuesday for freer trade in goods and services, a realignment of world currencies and greater aid to nations short of food.

Recommendations from a three-day meeting of the Trilateral Commission - academic, political and business leaders from Europe, Canada, Japan and the United States - were outlined in a meeting with Nakasone.

A statement issued afterward said: ″A solid base for longer-term, non- inflationary growth can and must be laid now.″ It noted an ″increasing uncertainty in the world economy″ because of ″the most bitter trade conflicts ... in the postwar era,″ high unemployment in Western Europe and Canada and a trend toward protectionism.

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