JAPANESE AUTOMAKERS SAY US TRADE DEMANDS WERE UNCLEAR

JAPANESE AUTOMAKERS SAY US TRADE DEMANDS WERE UNCLEAR

Despite President Bush's repeated proclamations that the purpose of his trip to Japan last week was "jobs, jobs, jobs," Japanese automakers were not told in advance exactly what the president and U.S. automakers wanted out of the trade talks, according to both U.S. and Japanese auto industry sources.

"The Japanese side was not informed as to why the Big Three chairmen were coming with Bush," said Hideo Sugiura, a former chairman of Honda Motor Co., referring to Lee Iacocca of Chrysler, Harold Poling of Ford and Robert Stempel of General Motors.Officials of the Big Three U.S. automakers confirmed that the Japanese were not presented with specific demands regarding auto trade, even though all three companies subsequently described the Japanese proposals for importing 20,000 more American-made cars and increasing purchases of U.S. auto parts over the next several years by $10 billion as inadequate.

The Japanese confusion apparently stemmed in part from the different agendas pursued by the administration and the automakers in Tokyo.

The administration focused its attention on improving market access for U.S. automakers and parts suppliers in Japan, along with increased purchases of U.S.-made components.

Speaking for his U.S. counterparts, Mr. Poling told the Japanese automakers last Thursday that they should urge their government to agree to a timetable for eliminating Japan's $41 billion trade surplus over five years. Three quarters of that surplus stems from Japanese exports of vehicles and components.

Mr. Poling's statement did not, however, mention any specific targets sought by the automakers for increased purchases of U.S. autos or parts, nor did he set any precise goals for reducing Japanese exports to the United States.

The lack of advance information prompted a major effort by Japanese trade officials during the days immediately before the auto talks to find out exactly what the U.S. side wanted, according to a Washington-based executive with one of the Big Three.

Another Washington-based U.S. auto executive defended the decision not to present specific demands ahead of time. "Smart negotiators don't tip their hands," she said.

The Big Three chairmen successfully conveyed the message that "something's gotta change," she said, even though the Japanese response was "wholly inadequate."

But Maryann N. Keller, an auto analyst with the Wall Street firm Furman & Selz, said it was "amazing" that the U.S. side failed to present specific demands in advance.

"If the Japanese side had no advance warning of what we want, that's our fault," she said, adding that meetings of heads of states usually follow prearranged scripts.

Mr. Sugiura contended that the net result of the meeting between the Big Three chiefs and the chairmen of Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota was that both sides ended up blaming each other.

"That's not going to lead to a solution," he said in an interview here.

The former Honda chairman, now an adviser to Yamatane Corp., is visiting New York, Washington and Detroit this week to push his idea for a formal mechanism whereby Japanese and U.S. automakers will hold direct, regular consultations aimed at resolving industry problems, instead of relying on their respective governments.

In fact, the heads of the Big Three and Japan's Big Five tentatively are scheduled to meet again next month. The site has not yet been determined, nor has there been any decision on whether such meetings would continue.