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BUSH DID MAKE PROGRESS, BUT MUCH WORK REMAINS

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President Bush has declared victory for his trade mission to Japan that was to create jobs, jobs and more jobs, but there won't be many Americans going back to work soon as a result.

Bush heads back to Washington with several "action plans" to narrow Japan's $41 billion trade surplus with the United States, largely through vaguely worded promises to try to boost imports of American goods such as glass, paper and computer chips.The centerpiece is a goal by Japanese automakers to increase annual purchases of "Made in America" car parts by $10 billion by 1994. They also will try to sell an additional 20,000 American cars a year in Japan. That's 55 cars a day - hardly a formula for ending the U.S. recession.

The Japanese automakers are less than thrilled with the commitments, made under the prodding of their government and the realization that some concessions are needed to try to ease rising protectionist sentiment in Congress. Clearly, they are offering only the minimum they think Bush needs to claim a political victory.

The automakers also pointedly say that their dealerships can make the targets only if Detroit can persuade Japanese to buy their cars and tailor them for driving conditions that are far different than in the United States. Ultimately, the Big Three will have to take this advice or have no hope of making money here.

The only way Bush could have substantially reduced the trade imbalance would have been to persuade Japan either to drastically limit its car exports or to agree to reducing the deficit by a certain percentage annually or face stringent protectionist measures, a proposal backed by the Big Three.

But those were proposals that Bush, as a professed free trader, would not endorse, and that Japan, as a rising power, would find very difficult to swallow.

In fact, such ploys raise the possibility of trade wars and protectionism that most economists agree shrink the global economy and throw people out of work. So in a sense, Bush may have done the U.S. economy the biggest favor possible by refusing to make such ultimatums.

And while vaguely worded, there are segments of the agreements reached in Tokyo that, if faithfully carried out, could mean more jobs for Americans in the longer term.

Both sides agreed to reinvigorate an existing program to remove non-formal barriers to trade. With most formal barriers such as tariffs already removed, this road probably has the most potential for opening up the Japanese market. It will take time, but it can show results.

Toys R Us, for example, this month began selling Ken and Bar-bies to Japanese because U.S. negotiators persuaded the Japanese to change laws that protected mom-and-pop shops from huge discount retailers.

Bush and his host, Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, also supported the trend of an appreciating yen against the dollar, which would make U.S. imports more competitively priced here.

The president said that he and Miyazawa made headway in resolving trade problems and that the Japanese have received his message on the importance of fair trade.

Perhaps. But what rings even truer is his statement at his joint news conference with Miyazawa: "There is no doubt that we have much more work to do abroad and at home to increase U.S. exports and the jobs they create."