WASHINGTON -- Japanese government officials might target U.S. aircraft, computer and agricultural products for retaliatory sanctions if the White House imposes steep tariffs on imported Japanese luxury cars next week, trade officials in Washington and Tokyo said yesterday.
A Japanese foreign trade ministry official in a telephone interview from Tokyo said the retaliation talk is meant to go beyond short-term pressure tactics by Japan.
"President Clinton doesn't think we'll retaliate, but we will if we're pushed and pushed, as is happening now," the official said on the condition his name wasn't used. "We are, in the government, considering a full range of options if the sanctions are imposed on June 28."
To another trade expert, Seizaburo Sato, an adviser to the Japanese government and a foreign affairs scholar at Tokyo University, the retaliation talk is aimed mainly at rattling big U.S. exporters so they'll pressure President Clinton to cancel his plan to impose 100 percent tariffs on 13 models of Japanese luxury car imports.
Under this approach, Mr. Sato said, U.S. exporters "would become peacemakers, putting pressure on the White House to settle, to put down arms, to call off the war."
Tokyo's talk of retaliation comes as negotiators from both countries were preparing for last-ditch settle ment talks in Geneva today and tomorrow -- a week before the U.S. sanctions are scheduled to take effect. A 100 percent tariff on imported Japanese luxury cars would effectively price those cars out of the U.S. market.
So far, some big U.S. exporters say they view the possibility of Japanese retaliation as a Japanese negotiating tactic, though they nervously acknowledged that threats in trade wars sometimes turn into reality when a government's credibility is put to the test.
An executive with Boeing Corp. said yesterday on the condition of anonymity that the Japanese threat of retaliation "would have the effect of putting U.S. firms in the position of pressuring the White House to settle."
The executive said the message "isn't lost on Boeing, which is urging the White House to settle the dispute amicably" -- and soon.
Japan is Boeing's largest foreign customer.
A spokesman for the American Farm Bureau said he's concerned that the U.S. auto industry "has goaded Clinton into being unrealistically aggressive" in the current trade dispute.
"If it backfires, there will be a lot of people very unhappy, and we'll be among them," he said.
An executive with a computer firm added: "We're giving this administration the benefit of the doubt but we're also whispering -- get a deal. Please, get a deal."