Stubbornly refusing to grant other nations access to its domestic market, Japan has torpedoed the current round of world trade negotiations. Tokyo wants to be a major player in international trade and, indeed, by virtue of its extensive exports is a force to be reckoned with.
But the Japanese aren't playing fair. While taking advantage of open markets in other nations and blocking access to its domestic economy, Japan is refusing to compete on a level playing field.Such concerns clouded a meeting of the Japanese foreign minister with U.S. officials in Washington this week.
The length to which Japan will go to protect its domestic market was demonstrated recently when Japanese officials insisted that a few bags of rice grown in the United States be removed from a food exhibit in Tokyo. Saying they were threatened with arrest, American officials complied.
Japan's public image in the United States has sagged quite a bit lately. First, it has been battered by the perception that the Japanese are flooding U.S. markets with goods while not allowing us a crack at their markets.
Then, it became apparent that the dollars the Japanese were harvesting from U.S. buyers were being used to buy up real estate, artwork and whole companies here.
The Japanese have also gained a reputation for being environmentally insensitive. They violate international treaties on the protection of endangered species, continue to trade illegally in poached elephant ivory and utilize destructive methods of fishing on the high seas.
And, as Americans celebrate the victory over Iraq in the Persian Gulf war, the Japanese are looking like cheapskates. They backed off direct support of the war, promising money instead. But they've paid only $7.3 billion of the $9 billion promised.
Experience shows that trade sanctions, in the form of tariffs or an outright ban on imports, do no good. It only brings retaliation from the other side and a continuing escalation that damages both countries.
What is more effective is consumers who are educated and informed and who have viable choices. American manufacturers are putting greater emphasis on quality and are gearing up to challenge foreign imports on consumer goods ranging from automobiles to electronics.
And Americans are paying attention, both to the improving quality of domestically produced goods and to how we're being treated in the world marketplace.
The Japanese may turn a deaf ear to pleas by our trade negotiators for a fair shake. But they sit up and pay attention when sales of their goods in the United States fall off.
Corporations have a cozy relationship with the government in Japan, which is why their domestic market has been so tightly guarded. As those same companies see their export market sag and fathom the reason why, the Japanese will become more willing to sit down at the table and negotiate fair trade agreements.