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Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2008

CABINET INTERVIEW

Ailing regions at top of agenda: METI chief


Staff writer

The government needs to take measures this summer to stimulate the weakening economy amid surging fuel prices, Toshihiro Nikai, the new minister of economy, trade and industry, said.

News photo
Trade talks: Toshihiro Nikai gives an interview at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on Monday. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

"We are especially concerned that regional economies are worsening and small to midsize businesses are struggling," Nikai said in an interview with The Japan Times on Monday. "Record crude oil and raw material prices are squeezing both companies and families."

Nikai stressed that timely and aggressive policy implementation is required to resuscitate the economy.

"We would like to have countermeasures in the middle of summer . . . to make the utmost effort to restore the vibrancy of the Japanese economy," said Nikai, who previously served as trade minister for one year through September 2006.

The government needs to urgently use the existing budget, inject reserve funds and consider compiling a supplementary budget, Nikai suggested.

While implementing an economic stimulus package, the government will also need to be conscious of the nation's fiscal health by focusing its spending where genuinely needed, Nikai added.

"We would like to have the maximum effect with the least possible budget," he said.

To counter surging oil prices, Nikai said the government initially needs to be watchful of speculative funds.

It is also imperative for the government to check whether companies are deliberately stockpiling their products to create shortages in the market that lead to price hikes, or whether oil exporting countries are controlling their fuel supplies to benefit themselves, Nikai said.

The veteran Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker said he will also call on people and corporations to limit their energy consumption to cope with the situation.

On the latest collapse of the World Trade Organization trade liberalization talks, Nikai said the negotiations should be resumed as soon as possible.

"Because the foundation (of the talks) has been fractured, we must try to build a new one," he said. "We cannot leave this at it is now."

Nikai said the government should make efforts to push both multilateral and bilateral free trade negotiations forward.

"I believe WTO talks and free-trade agreements are the way forward for Japan," he said. "We must make efforts to move WTO and FTA talks forward."

Nikai also emphasized the importance of strengthening the nation's natural resources diplomacy.

"We should renew our understanding that Africa is an extremely important partner in terms of resources diplomacy."

Nikai also said he considers Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia as key partners for securing natural resources.



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