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Friday, Nov. 4, 2011

March 11 a chance for rebirth: experts


Staff writer

While the March 11 disasters devastated the Tohoku region and added another challenge to a nation already troubled with social and economic malaise, the crisis can be turned into a chance for revival, lawmakers and experts said Thursday.

News photo
Turning tragedy into triumph: Heizo Takenaka (third from left), a former minister of economic and fiscal policy, speaks during the G1 Global Conference 2011 on Thursday in Tokyo. KAZUAKI NAGATA PHOTO

"Japan is now in the midst of a national crisis. This is a serious challenge. . . . But I think that any crisis offers us a chance at the same time," Motohisa Furukawa, state minister in charge of national strategy, told the G1 Global Conference 2011, whose theme was "Rebirth of Japan."

"In the process of reconstruction and rebirth from the disaster, we'd like to create a new economic and social structure, and the world will follow as a new model in the future," Furukawa said in an opening speech for the event at Globis University's Tokyo campus.

Energy, the environment and health will be key fields to foster innovation and drive the economy if Japan sets the goal of becoming the world's most advanced society in terms of the environment, energy and human longevity, Furukawa said.

Keiro Kitagami, vice minister of economy, trade and industry, said technological innovations in these fields will be important since they will be valuable as emerging countries grow and their energy consumption increases.

For instance, he said despite the Fukushima crisis, Japan's nuclear safety technology is still world class and has much to offer other countries planning to build atomic plants.

Economic experts said the economy still has the potential to grow and reconstruction from the disasters will play a significant role.

"The key phrase is 'from scratch,' " said Heizo Takenaka, a professor at Keio University and former fiscal and economic policy minister.

The Tohoku devastation was tragic, but a whole new system can be created from scratch that would serve as a social and economic model for the future, he said.

Takenaka said strong leadership and effective management, such as a policy board directly chaired by the prime minister, are essential.

Robert Alan Feldman, managing director of Morgan Stanley MUFG Securities, said that Japan needs to implement further reforms in its labor market.

The country is likely to experience a labor shortage in the coming years as a result of the average age of Japan's workforce rising, so reforms to attract skilled workers from overseas will be crucial, he said.

To increase productivity, greater flexibility must be introduced in the labor market to allow workers to switch jobs more easily, as opposed to Japan's traditional system of lifetime employment.

The first G1 Global Conference, chaired by Globis Corp. CEO Yoshito Hori, was aimed at discussing a rebirth of Japan after March 11, featuring influential domestic and international participants.

"After we saw the scenes of devastation, we felt strongly that we need to commit to rebuilding Japan," Hori said.



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