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JAPANESE OFFICIALS SAY a rising volume of cars imported from the U.S. shows that their market is opening up. America exported more than 36,000 cars to Japan between January and November, 1993, up from 30,000 in the year-before period. Sure, a lot of those cars were assembled in America by Japanese outfits. But Japan argues that these are the same as cars built in Big Three U.S. plants and shipped to Japan as exports.

IN REALITY, that's a lot of double-talk. Depending on whose figures you believe, between 25% and 55% of the value built into U.S.-assembled cars with Japanese nameplates was created outside America. Some arrived in the form of parts imported from Japan. Still more came from component makers in the U.S. that are partly or wholly owned subsidiaries of Japanese companies. Removing Honda and Toyota cars leaves the Big Three exporting a meager 6,900 cars to Japan in 1993's first 11 months, down from 7,700 in the 1992 period.EDITED BY LARRY LIGHT AND JULIE TILSNER

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