DOES JAPAN PLAY FAIR? While official protectionism is largely gone, Americans still battle cartels, old-boy networks, and outright corruption. The U.S. must keep the pressure on.
(FORTUNE Magazine) – DOES JAPAN tilt its economic playing field against the rest of the world? The question is crucial, for despite years of pressure to open the world's No. 2 economy to foreign goods and investment, Japan has amassed an unheard-of trade surplus now soaring above $100 billion a year. If Japan's policies and business culture really do deny foreign companies a fighting chance, what can be done to set the balance right? Unless it is corrected, governments around the world, including the U.S. President elected in November, are sure to feel rising protectionist demands. This article examines specific markets and business practices that shed light on Japan's openness. Sizing up a country's business terrain is relative. Difficult or easy compared with what? In making the assessment, FORTUNE judged access to markets in Japan in relation to hardships Japanese companies face in the U.S. Overall, is the playing field level? In a word, no. ''The Japanese market is not as closed as Americans think,'' says Akio Morita, chairman of Sony, ''but not as open as the Japanese think.'' The long answer is more complicated, however -- and more encouraging. Japan has changed greatly since the mid- Eighties. In many markets today's tilt is less steep than it was, and an official, orchestrated policy of thwarting the gaijin (foreigner) is mostly gone. Americans with high-quality goods and services can make a dent in Japan. Because of remaining governmental roadblocks and a business culture that can be extraordinarily inhospitable to outsiders, however, U.S. companies still have to work harder than Japanese companies in the U.S. And sometimes the Americans need diplomatic pressure to help laissez faire along, particularly when they are trying to penetrate industries dominated by entrenched oligopolies. For those willing to take lots of bruises and stay in the game, Japan has compensations. The customers the Yank wins are often more loyal than those back home. Makoto Kuroda, managing director of Mitsubishi Corp., tells an American visitor: ''Your market is easy to enter, but it's also easy to be kicked out. In Japan, once in, your people may stay much longer.'' Depending on the industry, the Americans may also reap outsize profits. Says William Wheeler, who heads Asia-Pacific operations for FMC Corp.: ''The margins here are some of the highest in the world.'' Many Japanese insist that their country's barriers have fallen and that Americans have little to grouse about. ''In terms of formal government policies,'' asserts Noboru Hatakeyama, vice minister for international affairs at the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), ''Japan is much more open'' than the U.S. Japan has cut average tariffs on manufactured goods below America's (2.1% vs. 5%). The country may also be one of the few in history to subsidize imports. For the past three years, Japanese companies that substantially boost imports of a wide array of manufactured goods can get a 5% tax credit on the increase. Japan has some gripes about the U.S. too. In semiconductors, for instance, Washington has resorted to managed trade with quotas, demanding that Japan buy 20% of the chips it uses from foreign companies. The U.S. has also leaned on Japan to curb exports of such items as cars and machine tools, forcing a shift of production to American transplants. Light pickup trucks from Japan face an unusually high tariff of 25%. And let's not ignore recent protectionist outbursts, as when opportunistic politicians in Los Angeles canceled a subway car contract with Sumitomo in favor of Morrison Knudsen. For Japanese executives running businesses in the U.S., life is no Zen garden. They must often contend with a poorly educated, ill-trained labor force. The U.S. used to be ranked among the lowest-risk countries in which to do business, says Tachi Kiuchi, CEO of Mitsubishi Electronics America, a sales subsidiary of Mitsubishi Electric. But because of ''all the lawsuits,'' he says, ''the U.S. is no longer in the top five.'' Still, for all America's blemishes, one giant fact stands out: Gaining entry is like falling out of bed compared with what a foreign company confronts in Japan. Though formal barriers there are mostly gone, a forest of others remains. Many impede any newcomer to a particular market, Japanese or foreign, and in that sense foreigners are getting what trade negotiators call national treatment. But because Americans find conditions harder in Japan than vice versa, they are handicapped in redressing the trade imbalance. Topping the list of adverse conditions, according to U.S. companies surveyed in 1991 by the A.T. Kearney consulting firm, is ''the high cost of doing business.'' The rise in the yen against the dollar since the mid-Eighties has made a bad situation worse. Kearney itself pays $160 a square foot for its Tokyo office, nearly five times what equivalent space would command in New York City. Assuming that an American company lands orders, survival in the early years can resemble life in a piranha tank. Unless the product is unique and can't be readily duplicated, says Kearney vice president William Best, ''you'll have competition faster than you can believe.'' Americans who bend your ear about the perils aren't all crybabies, for the Japanese themselves acknowledge that their country is a rough go. Listen to Seiichi Takikawa, the jovial president of Canon Sales, a marketing and importing offshoot of the Japanese camera and copier company. He says that in the Seventies, when he built up Canon's operation in the U.S. -- ''where it's a much simpler task'' -- it took only six years to lift sales tenfold. Returning to Japan, Takikawa needed 15 years to achieve similar growth. Reason: a smaller market, fiercer competition, and a government that, he says, ''has a habit of sticking its nose into everything it sees.'' And Takikawa was born into the culture. For an American, he says, success in Japan requires ''two to three times as much as energy.'' Daunting as this sounds, it was worse when Japan practiced flagrant protectionism. Edmund Reilly, president of Digital Equipment's Japanese subsidiary, recalls that when he first went to Japan for his company in 1970, the government was nurturing a home-grown computer industry and ''the odds really were stacked against us.'' Overt discrimination against foreign products is now limited, though Japan still keeps out rice. The ban flies in the face of free-market principles: The home-grown variety costs seven times as much as imported rice would. These days, when the Japanese government makes life difficult for foreigners, it's mainly through regulatory moves that rarely get headlines. Etak, a California company now part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., was the first to begin electronic mapping of Japanese cities in 1987, hoping to enable ambulance services and others to find addresses on computer screens. But a % year later the government decided that Etak needed a license. By the time it came through, the company's head start was gone and a Japanese competitor had moved in.
This is but one example. Says Clyde Prestowitz Jr., president of the Economic Strategy Institute, a Washington research group: ''The procedures that you go through are typically not transparent.'' He means they are neither open nor based on criteria known to all who are affected. In that atmosphere, American executives say, Japanese who have good entree with bureaucrats can delay the entry of competitors. The effects are sufficiently serious that Japan, in the latest round of talks with the U.S. under the so-called Structural Impediments Initiative, has agreed to reform its regulatory practices. What really leaves many foreign companies out in the cold is the business culture. The word keiretsu suggests giant industrial groups linked by cross- ownership, such as Mitsubishi or Sumitomo. But the term can apply to longstanding business relationships without financial ties. When Sony developed its videocassette recorder in the early Seventies, Chairman Morita relates, it needed a new, high-quality recording tape. At the time, a major U.S. chemical company passed up Sony's invitation to supply the tape because it was reluctant to invest in new production equipment. Sony enlisted two Japanese companies that, Morita says, ''invested money at their own risk.'' To this day Sony holds no equity stake in these suppliers, he adds, ''but once they invest money and make a good product, that situation is a keiretsu, and we feel some kind of obligation.'' Outsiders sometimes fail to understand why they can't instantly displace such suppliers by underselling them. As Morita explains: ''An American company says, 'Our product is good, our price is good, why don't you buy?' But with an industrial product that needs continuous improvement, you need a long-term relationship.'' The U.S. company that originally declined Morita's invitation now has some of the business, but less than it might have had. Productive relationships are the good side of keiretsu, which America has begun to emulate. But all too often, keiretsu exclude new players or give preferential treatment to members. Says Reilly of Digital Equipment, who is also president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan: ''Keiretsu links, bidding cartels, and the old-boy network still present us with formidable obstacles that Japanese corporations do not face in the U.S. market.'' Obstacles or no, more and more companies find they must be in Japan. Applied Materials, a Silicon Valley company with sales of $644 million a year, is one of the few flourishing American manufacturers of chipmaking equipment. One reason: It gets valuable customer feedback from Japan, which accounts for 35% of its revenues. Tetsuo Iwasaki, CEO of Applied Materials Japan, explains how the company benefits from working closely with Japan's semiconductor industry, the world's largest. Japan excels in manufacturing DRAM memory chips, he notes, which require finer circuitry than the microprocessors in which the U.S. has the leading position. Says Iwasaki: ''In production, DRAMs are the technology driver.'' The examination that follows concentrates on markets where Americans have a strong competitive edge or a chance to improve the trade numbers dramatically -- if only the playing fields were level. One notable theme that emerges: It's relatively easy to sell to Japanese consumers as opposed to the purchasing agents of big companies. We also assess Japanese fairness in two important areas that cut across many businesses -- direct investment and patent protection.
-- CONSUMER ITEMS. The Apple computers jumping off Tokyo store shelves and BMWs tooling down the elevated expressways dispel the notion that Japanese citizens shun all foreign products. When it comes to marketing, says Tokyo consultant George Fields, ''American companies have an advantage in anything related to youth and lifestyle.'' Fields, the son of an Australian father and a Japanese mother, spent time in each country in his youth. He notes that Japan's No. 1 soft drink is Coca-Cola, the No. 1 fast-food chain is McDonald's, the No. 1 theme park Disneyland, and the list goes on. Many of the successful products are made in Japan rather than exported from the U.S., but the earnings help America's balance of payments. The main difficulty in marketing consumer goods is penetrating the convoluted distribution system. Kodak's entry in the mid-Eighties shows the unexpected routes a company might have to take: It used a mail-order company to sell film and a dry-cleaning chain as a collection point for developing. Distribution is an impediment for the supreme consumer item: the automobile. When Japanese carmakers entered the U.S., they were able to sell through existing American dealers, who have long been allowed to offer more than one make. Japanese automakers own much of the sales network in Japan, and dual dealerships are rare. Bowing to pressure from Washington, Japanese carmakers are starting to offer a few American models. But the only real answer may be a direct stake in a distribution network. BMW carved out a respectable niche in Japan's market after it bought an ailing chain of showrooms in 1981 and expanded it. Ford, the most aggressive of Detroit's Big Three in Japan, has just raised its ownership in the Autorama sales chain from 34% to 36.5%, making it an equal partner with Mazda.
-- SODA ASH. The Japanese market for this mundane substance, used in glassmaking, is only $360 million a year. But Japan's reluctance to import it illustrates a widespread pattern studied by economist Peter Petri of Brandeis University. Analyzing where Japanese imports go, he found that businesses and government agencies were far less inclined than consumers to buy foreign goods. The soda ash story is ''entirely consistent'' with this reluctance, Petri says. Patriotism on the part of senior executives may partly explain it. Says Douglas Shinsato of the Tohmatsu Touche Ross consulting firm in Tokyo: ''Older managing directors, 50 and above, still think it's a sin to import.'' Soda ash is cheaply mined in Wyoming by FMC, the leading importer into Japan, and the quality is as good or better than what's produced artificially in Japan's chemical plants. If pure economics ruled, imports might have half the market. In the early Eighties, following a complaint by the U.S. government, Japan's Fair Trade Commission found that a cartel of chemical and glass companies was setting price and volume limits on the imported stuff. Before long the import share leaped from 3% to 17%. The cartel must still have some power, because while imports have exerted steady downward pressure on the price, their share has been stuck around 22% since 1987.
-- FLAT GLASS. The same Japanese companies that overpay for soda ash manage to hold U.S. glass imports to less than 0.5% of the market. Three producers have divvied up the business in virtually unaltered proportions for decades. That's far different than the U.S., where Japanese companies have 10% of the market either directly or through stakes in American producers. Michigan's privately owned Guardian Industries wants to smash through Japan's glass wall. The company can typically deliver its American-made product direct to a Japanese customer for 20% less, claims Peter Young, Guardian's director of international business. But, he says, ''Japanese construction companies tell us, 'We can work with you outside Japan but not inside.' They fear they won't be able to buy from domestic glassmakers when they need to.'' Among many commitments made by the Japanese government during President Bush's January visit was an agreement to take steps to ''substantially increase'' foreign companies' access to the flat glass market. As part of this effort Japan's Fair Trade Commission, which in the past has issued cease-and- desist orders against the Japanese oligopoly, is conducting a new survey of competitive conditions in the industry. PPG, which has taken a lower-key approach in Japan than Guardian, welcomes the study. ''It might do some good,'' says PPG executive John Reichenbach Jr. ''But there's no need to get euphoric at this point.''
-- AUTO PARTS. This Japanese door is opening wider, partly because salesman Bush has his foot in it. Auto parts got heavy attention during his Japan trip because of their huge sales potential. It may take years for Detroit's automakers to increase their minuscule 0.3% share of the Japanese market, but American parts makers assert that a lot of what they make could be put into Japanese cars right now, both in Japan and at U.S. transplants. Cars and parts made up 72% of last year's $43.4 billion U.S. trade deficit with Japan. It's been a tough sale. Many components must be designed into a new car long before it goes into production. Two years ago, a white paper by the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan charged that American parts makers couldn't get in on the ground floor: ''Typically, participation in the design phase is only open to Japanese companies.'' The transplants have been boosting the U.S. content of their cars, but many of the parts come from Japanese parts makers that followed the carmakers to North America. In many cases they are members of keiretsu back home, and the carmakers own some of their stock. Says CEO John Reilly of Tenneco Automotive, which is stunningly successful at selling parts everywhere but Japan: ''You can't have it both ways -- a keiretsu relationship with a supplier and a free and open market.'' Oh, yes you can, asserts Koichiro Noguchi, Toyota's urbane general manager of international purchasing at Toyota City, who dismisses the idea that his company's keiretsu with suppliers is exclusionary. On average, he says, Toyota orders the same part from four or five companies, of which only one is typically in the family. Each of Japan's parts manufacturers, he adds, ships to an average of five automakers. ''In an industry as competitive as ours,'' declares Noguchi, ''conducting business on a restrictive basis is only for those with a death wish.'' Toyota is striving to buy from more American-owned parts makers, Noguchi notes, and to include them in new model development. But many need to learn to control costs better, he says, and Toyota still encounters 100 times as many defects from U.S. companies as from Japanese suppliers. The average reject rate from an American firm, Noguchi says, is 2,000 parts per million (ppm), vs. the 20 ppm average from Japanese companies. Noguchi reports that U.S. defects have fallen, ''steadily but not dramatically,'' by 60% since 1988. ''I don't want you to make it sound discouraging,'' he tells a visitor. ''I believe in a rosy future.'' American parts makers, loath to reveal their defect rates, stoutly maintain that they are competitive on price and quality. A study commissioned by the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute shows that on average U.S.-made parts are 19% cheaper than those produced in Japan. On quality, though, Richard McClain, TRW's Asia-Pacific vice president, concedes that some American suppliers may well fall short. Among makers of major components, he says, ''there's a larger disparity between the best and worst in the U.S. than in Japan.'' But, he adds, ''the best American suppliers are world-competitive.'' One that surely qualifies is TRW, whose global business with Japan's carmakers has reached $500 million a year and is growing fast. ''It takes a unique technology to sell to the Japanese in Japan,'' McClain says. TRW ships air bags and sensors from the U.S. and supplies steering gear from a 100%- owned plant in Nagoya. Another company to make it into Japanese auto factories is Timken, which began selling tapered roller bearings for wheel assemblies to Nissan and Mazda in 1987. When Nissan began planning three new luxury cars not sold in the U.S., it included Timken in the ''design-in'' phase. Timken bearings from Bucyrus, Ohio, now go into a made-in-Japan Toyota pickup truck. During the Bush trip, Japan's automakers said they would try to double purchases of American-made parts in the U.S. and Japan to $19 billion by 1994. Toyota's president, Shoichiro Toyoda, says that ''we know there's a trade imbalance we should be concerned about.'' Does he think his company can meet its own stepped-up goal for buying American-made parts? ''We will make good- faith efforts,'' he responds. Altering close supplier relationships like Toyota's won't be easy, however, and the Americans are waging an uphill campaign.
-- CONSTRUCTION. Japanese companies do plenty of business in the U.S., where Engineering News Record estimates their new contracts at $1.5 billion last year in a $401-billion-a-year market. It's a different tale in Japan, where it has taken threats of retaliation from Washington to open up public works projects to American firms. Commerce Department officials put the value of total U.S. construction work in Japan at about $200 million a year. That meager presence may be a loss for Japan. John Moore Jr., who runs the Far East business for Bechtel Group, the biggest U.S. operator in Japan, says construction costs there are two to four times higher than in the U.S. Bloated costs help explain why Japan's construction industry, running at $651 billion in 1991, is nominally bigger than America's. Back home and in other countries, Bechtel keeps a lid on expenses by arranging for just-in-time delivery of materials and components. But because it is only one member of a consortium putting up half of a terminal at Osaka's new Kansai airport, one of six Japanese projects it's involved in, Bechtel cannot impose its usual computerized cost and scheduling controls. At Kansai, Moore says, 200 subcontractors are at work, and ''nobody knows where all the trucks are going.'' Though its construction companies are aggressively competitive abroad, Japan tolerates inefficiency at home. The reason, Moore says, is that the construction industry ''is designed to maintain full employment regardless of costs.'' Collusion is rife. Recently, Japan's Fair Trade Commission uncovered a bid-rigging scheme, known as a dango, not far from Tokyo but took relatively mild action against the companies. Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which gets major contributions from the construction industry, has been in no hurry to crack down. America's construction industry isn't always simon-pure, but Akira Goshi, who teaches at Nihon University's business school, flatly says that in his country, ''construction is corrupt.'' Change, he says, will require ''flak from outside Japan.''
-- FINANCIAL SERVICES. America excels here, and the big surprise is that some foreign companies enjoy privileges in Japan that local competitors don't. Under exceptions to Japan's version of the Glass-Steagall Act separating commercial and investment banking, Citicorp owns a brokerage firm while Salomon Brothers has a bank. In that sense, the playing field runs downhill. But factor in heavy-handed regulation and keiretsu, neither of which hampers Japanese financial firms in the U.S., and the gradient runs moderately against the Yanks. Citibank, the largest U.S. commercial bank in Japan, has few beefs. It is no sign of discrimination, says Masamoto Yashiro, Citi's executive vice president in Tokyo, that American institutions control only 1% of the assets in Japan's banking system while Japanese banks have a tenth of America's. Citi is free to buy a Japanese bank, Yashiro says, but with price/earnings multiples still high and Japan's stock market traumatized, ''Who in their right mind would want to?'' Citi's big push in Japan is in consumer banking, and one gripe is that the bank can't get access to as many automated teller networks as it would like. At the opposite end of the satisfaction spectrum are U.S. investment advisory firms and banks eager to apply their sophisticated money management techniques to Japan's $225 billion in pension funds. So far, despite a push by the U.S. Treasury Department, regulations from Japan's Ministry of Finance (MOF) have held the foreigners back. The cup is half full for brokerage firms. Salomon is one of 25 foreign securities houses on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, four times the number in 1986, and its $180 million in profits in Japan last year placed it second only to Nomura. That sounds like nirvana, except that new products Salomon wants to introduce -- such as securitized credit card receivables -- require MOF's approval, which takes time.
The keiretsu system hems in American International Group, the big insurer. Not that AIG is bleeding. Entering Japan just after World War II to serve American GIs, it has become the largest foreign seller of life and accident insurance to the Japanese and sends splendid profits back to headquarters in New York City. But while the company sells all kinds of personal accident insurance, it is effectively frozen out of mandatory automobile liability insurance, which auto dealers arrange when they sell new cars. As for property and casualty insurance for business, AIG sells to small companies but not big ones. Keiretsu connections, including stock holdings, between big companies and insurers, plus regulation, AIG says, ''create a web that small and foreign companies cannot penetrate.'' AIG claims that to land a big client it would have to join the keiretsu, in effect, by taking a 3% to 5% ownership stake in the prospect. Says Evan Greenberg, AIG's chief operating officer for Japan and Korea: ''You're talking of an investment of hundreds of millions just to sell to one customer.'' Ryozo Kanno, in the MOF section that regulates P&C, says he has trouble understanding such complaints. The answer, he contends, may simply be more ''sales effort.'' He likes to point out that foreign insurance companies have 2.8% of the P&C business in Japan while his country's insurers have only 0.1% in the U.S. CEO Maurice Greenberg, Evan's father, argues that the Japanese insurers' small American market share is beside the point. Japanese insurers have ''absolute carte blanche'' in the U.S., he says. ''I thought the rules had to do with market access, not market share.''
-- DIRECT INVESTMENT. The flow of direct investment between the U.S. and Japan is even more lopsided than trade. According to figures compiled by MITI, foreign companies control less than 1% of corporate assets in Japan, while outsiders own 20% of U.S. assets. Though many American companies have shunned investing in Japan because of the high cost and the tough business climate, they didn't have much choice prior to the early Seventies. Government policy made it virtually impossible for outsiders to buy control of a Japanese company. Since then, cross-ownership by keiretsu -- which economist Robert Lawrence of Harvard's Kennedy School calls ''an explicit device to prevent foreigners from buying Japanese companies'' -- has kept a majority of each member's shares off the market. By contrast, except mainly in defense-related industries, the U.S. welcome mat has always been out. States avidly court foreigners, as Kentucky did when it offered Toyota $140 million in incentives to build an assembly plant in Georgetown. Says Walter Shill III of McKinsey & Co.'s Tokyo office: ''The U.S. is beyond open; it's promiscuous.'' The unequal investment flows have far-reaching consequences. One is a largely one-way transfer of technology from startup companies, which the U.S. hatches in disproportionate numbers. Since 1986, according to the American Electronics Association's office in Japan, Japanese companies have bought 50% or more of at least 65 U.S. electronics outfits, most of them startups. Over | the entire Eighties, American companies acquired major stakes in a mere seven Japanese electronics companies. Skewed investment also skews trade. That's a major point of a new book, Rivals Beyond Trade, by Dennis Encarnation of the Harvard business school. Intracompany transactions by multinational corporations now dominate the world's movement of goods, Encarnation says, as when a Japanese car transplant brings in engines from the parent company. To control intracompany trade, Encarnation says, corporations need majority control of their overseas affiliates. But he argues that ''persistent asymmetries'' -- first in policy, then in business practices -- have severely held down the number of majority- owned foreign subsidiaries in Japan. The situation is not hopeless. American companies, Encarnation says, are ''desperately trying to overcome the legacy of the past.'' Right now, says John Stern, who heads the American Electronics Association's Japan office, 38 high-tech Japanese companies are on the market, and not all are turkeys. Toshihiko Yamamoto, president of an investment banking boutique called Advisory International Inc., knows of companies available in chemicals, retailing, warehousing, and financial services.
-- PATENT PROTECTION. Both Japan and the U.S. find plenty to criticize in each other's practices. The Japanese are incensed that American companies, in many cases failing to do the hard work of turning their technology into winning products, are going to court and nailing Japanese companies that did. The Japanese are not being singled out in the new aggressiveness on patent enforcement, but it poses a special hazard for foreign companies in the U.S. Outweighing it are deficiencies in Japan's protection of intellectual property. A Japanese company can get a patent in 18 months on average from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In Japan the process can easily take five years. Texas Instruments waited 29 years for a patent on its basic integrated circuit design. While the U.S. patent system rewards breakthroughs, the Japanese system is designed to diffuse technology. Eighteen months after an application is filed in Japan, competitors are free to pore over it. They are then in a position to design around the new technology. The sheer delay in getting a patent can wipe out a company's Japanese sales effort. In 1982, Silicon Technologies, a small private outfit in New Jersey, applied for a Japanese patent on a system that helps prevent damage to wafers as they are sliced off silicon crystals by diamond-tipped saws. The patent still hasn't come through. CEO George Kachajian charges that a Japanese company that opposed its issuance has incorporated a copy of the system into its own machines. After Kachajian threatened to bring Washington trade negotiators into the picture, the Japanese company began discussing royalties. There is nothing to prevent the recurrence of similar cases. Under U.S. prodding, Japan has promised to speed the granting of patents. If American business is to make further headway in Japan, two strategies are essential. Some companies clearly need the help of gaiatsu, or foreign pressure, in the form of crowbars applied by the U.S. government. ''There's plenty of work to be done for further accelerating access to this market,'' says Michael Armacost, U.S. ambassador to Japan. That may sound like market meddling, but prying open Japan's doors is preferable to the protectionist alternative of closing America's. In return, Japan gets to exert its own gaiatsu, goading the U.S. to shape up its schools and boost a low savings rate. THE OTHER strategy is for companies to try harder. Kodak's innovative distribution system is one example. Another who went the extra mile -- or should we say the extra scooter ride -- is Ernest Higa, a Hawaiian-born American who introduced Domino's pizza to Japan seven years ago. To make sure the pizzas arrive in the promised 30 minutes, Higa developed proprietary maps locating all the families in a store's delivery radius. David Baskerville, Asian vice president of Siecor International, a joint venture of Siemens and Corning, battled for six years to become one of the top five suppliers of fiber-optic cable. Says he: ''Never give up, keep pushing.'' And -- surprise -- the Japanese really are trying harder too. A new report by the Keidanren, Japan's prestigious organization of top industrial leaders, calls for kyosei (symbiosis) with the U.S. One way to achieve it, the report says, is ''for keiretsu members to provide ample opportunities for newcomers, particularly those from foreign countries.'' Kazuo Nukazawa, the Keidanren's managing director, says he hopes for a future in which critics like Edith Cresson, France's former prime minister, will no longer describe his country as an anthill. ''We'll catch up with you in humanizing capitalism,'' Nukazawa tells an American. ''We'll cut working hours, first passing you and then Germany.'' MITI, too, has mellowed. Minoru Masuda, chairman of the Japan External Trade Organization, its trade arm, drives around Toyko in a Cadillac with an ''Import now!'' sticker. Americans who distrust Japan might dismiss all this as public relations designed to keep export markets open. But Brandeis economist Petri believes the desire for something resembling economic detente ''is serious on the Keidanren and MITI's part.'' The trouble, he says, is that access to Japan's markets ''has much more to do with the fabric of the business system, and the Keidanren and MITI are not going to change that overnight.'' Japan will continue to open up, but foreigners can expect to keep looking uphill at the goal posts.
CHART: NOT AVAILABLE CREDIT: FORTUNE CHART CAPTION: U.S. TRADE DEFICIT WITH JAPAN