Japan Growth Strategy Sets Sights on Shift to IT, Economists Skeptical

BY :TAKAYA YAMAGUCHI & STANLEY WHITE

JUNE 11, 2015

SoftBank Corp's human-like robot named "Pepper" gestures as it introduces Nestle's coffee machines at an electric shop in Tokyo Dec. 1, 2014. (Reuters Photo/Issei Kato)

Tokyo. Japan aims to encourage its companies to focus more on cutting-edge information technology such as artificial intelligence, but analysts doubt the latest draft of the government’s growth strategy will be substantive enough to revitalize the economy.

The government wants to promote start-ups and more investment in fields such as the “Internet of Things,” which allows everyday appliances to communicate with each other via the Internet, the government said on Thursday.

The government’s plans match a copy of the draft obtained earlier by Reuters.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government also wants to continue promoting the use of industrial robots, according to the draft, which lacked details on the exact steps the government will take.

The government will likely add more details to the plan before crafting a final version of the growth strategy due at the end of this month.

Analysts, however, remain skeptical of the government’s commitment to more bolder and politically sensitive reforms, such as opening up the jobs market to skilled foreign workers.

“The growth strategy will probably cover a lot of ground but will not go into much detail or explain the degree of commitment,” said Hiroshi Shiraishi, senior economist at BNP Paribas Securities.

“We need a series of reforms, such as more commitment to immigration, labor market reform and free trade.”

Since Abe took office in late 2012 he has vowed to kick-start a listless economy with bold structural reforms, but his first two growth strategy proposals have largely disappointed markets.

If the final version lacks punch, it would reinforce fears that Japan is not moving fast enough to counter the negative economic effects from a declining population and waning manufacturing base.

“Up until last year, the focus was on stimulating demand to create the virtuous cycle of economic growth,” Economics Minister Akira Amari told reporters after announcing the draft.

“Now we need to focus on stimulating industry, encouraging capital expenditure and investment in research.”

The draft reiterates Abe’s often-stated goals of increasing female participation in the workforce, opening up more to highly-skilled foreign labor and increasing productivity in the services sector, but action on these fronts has proved elusive.

To be sure, there have been some bright spots on reforms.

Abe’s government helped secure pay increases for workers at some firms. The corporate tax rate will fall, which has encouraged a small number of firms to bring production back home from overseas.

Tokyo is negotiating a free-trade pact with the United States and 10 other countries that will encourage Japan’s farms sector to reform by exposing it to more competition.

However, economists worry that unless the government encourages a radical shift to services from manufacturing, increases the birth rate and reverses a steep decline in the working-age population the potential growth rate will fall in the long term.

Reuters

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