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U.S., Japan dodge trade war

Japan has promised to open its automobile market to the United States in a sudden agreement that averts a trade war between the world's two largest economies.

President Clinton hailed Wednesday's deal as a breakthrough that will create thousands of U.S. jobs.

Clinton said the Japanese promises could increase U.S. sales of auto parts almost $9-billion over the next three years. The Japanese also agreed to increase by 1,000 the number of dealerships there selling foreign cars over the next five years.

"This agreement is specific. It is measurable. It will achieve real, concrete results," Clinton said in Washington.

The deal culminated two years of negotiations. It also came hours before Washington's deadline to impose 100-percent tariffs on 13 Japanese luxury car models, including Toyota's Lexus and Honda's Acura lines.

"We all went from pessimism to the agreement without stopping at optimism," said U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor in Geneva, site of the talks.

But the deal appears to fall short of Clinton's goal of achieving Japanese pledges to purchase specific quantities of U.S. parts.

Instead, Japanese automakers promised to increase U.S. manufacturing and said they would take steps that would lead to increased purchases of U.S. auto parts.

When Clinton threatened a month ago to punish Japan with tariffs, he drew fierce criticism _ including from some leading Democrats _ for taking such a hard-line approach. Even Wednesday, some lawmakers took issue with the president's methods.

"Japan must continue to open its markets, and in the future, the U.S. trade strategy should be designed to accomplish this without the threat of closing ours," said Florida GOP Sen. Connie Mack, chairman of the Joint Economic Committee.

Last year, the United States had a trade deficit with Japan of $66-billion _ with one-fourth of that resulting from Japan's overwhelming edge in auto exports.

"For over 20 years, presidents have tried to fix this problem without success," Clinton said. "This unfair situation had to end."

In Tampa Bay, dealers of luxury Japanese cars breathed a sigh of relief. But a few chalked up the drama to politics-as-usual.

"I said two months ago that this would come down to the wire and everybody would reach an agreement," said Mike Marvel, general manager of Carlisle Acura in St. Petersburg.

Marvel frowned on some of area dealers who sought publicity from the tariff threat.

Now that the trade dispute is over, he said, the real beneficiaries are not the rich but the people who work for or provide service to the car dealerships.

"This agreement saved a lot of jobs," Marvel said.

_ Information from Times staff writer Robert Trigaux, Knight-Ridder Newspapers and the Associated Press was used in this report.

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