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The trade war with Japan was averted at the eleventh hour without Japan making any concessions. It's now OK for Japanese auto dealers to take on American cars (if they want to) and for Japanese carmakers to buy more U.S. parts (if they choose). Now all we have to do is make and market cars Japanese consumers want.

I get the feeling the U.S. government, for all its talk of 100% tariffs, was going to back down all along. It doesn't have much to show for all that bluster. There's nothing "specific" and "measurable" about the deal.

So what's changed? Lexus, Infiniti and Acura can continue to market their upscale cars in this country without being saddled with heavy tariffs. Japan probably won't retaliate by putting up obstacles to other U.S. products.

But the U.S. continues to pursue a remedy for Kodak's complaint that it is being shut out of the Japanese market. If the Japanese government doesn't try to make things better, will we threaten to slap a 100% tariff on Fuji film over here?

So it looks like U.S.-Japan relations are in for a continued rocky road ahead. What we need is some sort of mechanism to deal with these disputes on an ongoing basis.

M. Carl Johnson Jr., a former ad agency guy who helped build McCann Hakuhodo in the early '60s, has an interesting idea along these lines. He's also formed the U.S.-Japan Business Institute to facilitate trade between the two countries. Carl's idea, as he wrote me the other day, is for companies that have had success in the other country's market to make joint recommendations to their respective governments and involved companies on knotty trade issues.

In the auto area, for instance, executives from U.S. companies like Coca-Cola, Exxon and IBM -which all do extensive business in Japan-would team up with Japanese companies like Minolta and Panasonic to recommend solutions to pressing trade issues, which would then be reviewed by both governments before adoption.

No auto company people from the U.S. or Japan would be involved to avoid "bias or self-interest or animosity." The solution-oriented executives "would not take political or demagogic confrontational approaches." As Carl says, "Expatriate executives who have dealt with foreign companies as customers, competitors and suppliers can reach solutions far better than lawyers."

Carl's idea is based on a suggestion by the Japanese to set up a group called Comet-Committee on Market-Oriented Economy & Trade-composed of trade experts to review trade issues. He says the U.S. gave "short shrift" to the concept.

Why do we need the two governments to get involved at all? Such a non-partisan group-if it could put nationalistic feelings aside to concentrate on strictly trade issues (a big if, I admit)-could make recommendations to affected U.S. and Japanese executives.

The way it works now, the two governments are playing a game of Shootout at the OK Corral to see who blinks first. That is an exercise in futility, as we have seen time and time again.

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