The U.S. Japan Pact: A Hard Number

REMEMBER HOW, AFTER THE June 28 auto trade accord, Washington estimated the American cars and U.S.-made car parts the Japanese would buy? And remember how Japanese bureaucrats quickly disassociated themselves from the numbers, saying the calculations were purely made in America?

Well, U.S. sources close to the Geneva talks say that in the final hours of the talks headed by the U.S.'s Mickey Kantor and Japan's Ryutaro Hashimoto, Japanese officials quietly supplied one key figure: Japan's car companies planned to buy $6 billion worth of foreign parts in 1998 for use in their domestic plants. This was the sum of forecasts the Japanese auto makers had earlier given to the Ministry of International Trade & Industry. Japanese officials aren't able to confirm or deny that.

Sure, the $6 billion in parts imports does not amount to an enforceable commitment. But if the Japanese auto makers follow through, it could be far more beneficial than their 1992 pledge to double their foreign-parts purchases to $19 billion in three years. That agreement failed to spell out how much would actually be imported to Japan. Most of the parts ended up in Japanese cars manufactured in their U.S.-based plants.