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Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012

Sweden touts stable model for aging state

Staff writer

Japan can learn a lot from Sweden about dealing with an aging population, starting with accepting foreign labor and showing growth models for developing countries, according to Sweden's minister in charge of global aid.

News photo
Gunilla Carlsson

Gunilla Carlsson, minister for international development cooperation, said the Nordic country with advanced social welfare services actively supports developing nations because it has grown by opening up its economy.

"An open society and open economy have helped Sweden and we want other nations to go like that," the 49-year-old Carlsson told The Japan Times in a recent interview in Tokyo. She was here for the IMF and World Bank annual meetings that ended Oct. 14.

"We have created our own wealth, like Japan, after the war," she said. The minister added that her country was fortunate because it did not get involved in World War II and its industries did not suffer much from wartime destruction.

In 2010, Sweden provided official development assistance loans worth $4.53 billion. It accounted for 0.97 percent of the country's gross national income, the third-highest rate in the world, against Japan's 0.2 percent, according to the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo.

Sweden, home to multinational corporations such as telecommunications service provider Ericsson, carmaker Volvo and home products firm Ikea, strongly supports global free trade.

"We have multinational companies and good engineers, and believe in science and a role for women in society," Carlsson said. Sweden's organized systems for child care and other social welfare services help women continue in their jobs both in politics and the business world, she said.

Carlsson also stressed the importance of allowing foreign nationals to enter the labor market in countries experiencing a graying population.

"Because we live longer and longer and have less and less kids . . . we need to bring in people. I think the same goes for Japan," she said.

Bringing in foreign labor helps a country like Japan globalize its economy and at the same time helps stop the dwindling population from falling further, she said. "It's good for you because you are helping population growth."

Currently, one-fifth of Sweden's population are immigrants, for example from Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria, she said, acknowledging the open policy leads to problems common to other European countries, such as unskilled workers having a hard time finding jobs.

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