U.S. and Japanese officials were racing this evening toward a trade deal that could open Japanese markets to U.S. goods. But the clock was ticking fast toward a midnight deadline when tough American sanctions kick in. The chief negotiators -- U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor and Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono -- refused to predict the outcome. Subordinates expected they'd probably see eye-to-eye on several areas before sunup, but not on the biggest sore spot: auto manufacturing. TIME Washington correspondent Adam Zagorin says a U.S. move toward partial sanctions will probably spark "an irritated, if measured" Japanese response, followed by months of U.S. investigation into Japan's trading practices that should justify more action by President Clinton. Watch for a Kantor press conference at midday Saturday.