Industry titans join panel

Kyodo

The government on Friday named Toshiba Corp. President Norio Sasaki, Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Corp. President Yoshimitsu Kobayashi and two economists as members of a key economic panel to be reinstated under the newly launched Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The four, including Motoshige Ito, an economics professor at the University of Tokyo’s graduate school, and Susumu Takahashi, chairman of the Japan Research Institute, will represent the private sector and academic circles at the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy to be headed by Abe.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Abe picked the four to “support the prime minister with their knowledge,” taking into account the corporate executives’ “bold business decisions reflecting their global perspectives” and the economists’ “ability to explain complex economic issues in a plain way.”

Economic revitalization minister Akira Amari told reporters that the government paid heed to the achievements of Sasaki and Kobayashi, who both have engineering backgrounds, in successfully rebuilding their businesses.

Ito is an advocate of Japan’s participation in the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks, while Takahashi is known as an economist well-versed in macroeconomic policies.

The panel, which will consist of Abe, Suga, four economic ministers and the Bank of Japan governor along with the four business leaders and academics, is expected to function as the “control tower” for macroeconomic policies.

Suga said the council will hold its first meeting in early January. All Cabinet ministers and ruling party executives will attend the panel meetings.

The Abe government will also set up an economic revitalization headquarters with five committees.

Keio University professor Heizo Takenaka, who formerly served as economic and fiscal policy minister, and Hiroshi Mikitani, president of major online shopping mall operator Rakuten Inc., are among candidates for a committee to be tasked with discussing a strategy to boost Japan’s economic growth, government sources said.

The key governmental panel, established in 2001 by the Cabinet Office under the government led by the Liberal Democratic Party, had been put on ice since the Democratic Party of Japan took power in 2009.

Among former prime ministers from the LDP, Junichiro Koizumi used the council to strongly press for structural reforms, including the privatization of postal system.

Aso meets BOJ chief

Finance Minister Taro Aso said Friday he met with Bank of Japan Gov. Masaaki Shirakawa to confirm they stay in contact on policy coordination and other issues.

Aso was appointed new finance chief Wednesday when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched his Cabinet.

Abe is pressuring the BOJ to be more aggressive in easing monetary policy to end Japan’s prolonged battle with deflation. The central bank is widely expected to respond by introducing inflation targeting as early as next month, despite criticism that Abe is courting danger by threatening to strip the BOJ of its independence.

Foreign bond fund eyed

The government is studying the possibility of setting up a fund to buy foreign bonds as part of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s plan to battle deflation, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Friday.

The government is considering all options to find an effective means of helping overcome the chronic drop in prices, Suga said at after the daily Cabinet meeting.

In its policy platform, the LDP said it would set up a fund involving the government, the Bank of Japan and the private sector to purchase foreign bonds.

The fund is widely seen as a tool to guide the yen lower by buying foreign assets, but the Finance Ministry is cautious about the idea because it is virtually tantamount to currency market intervention and could draw fire from other countries.

TPP stance by summer

The Liberal Democratic Party plans to state its position on whether Japan will participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks by next summer’s Upper House election, Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba said Friday.

But the ability of the LDP, which returned to power after a landslide victory in the Dec. 16 Lower House poll, to take a clear-cut position on the contentious issue remains in question, as opinion within the party is divided over Japan entering multilateral negotiations on the TPP regional free-trade deal.

“The LDP should make some kind of decision in time for the House of Councilors poll next summer,” Ishiba said in a news conference, declining comment on the outlook for internal discussions.

In the campaign platform through which the LDP won the general election, the party promised to oppose the nation’s participation in the ongoing TPP talks if Japan is required to accept unconditional tariff elimination.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who heads the LDP, said in a news conference Wednesday that he wants to “comprehensively review” the matter after gathering information.

Abe is facing criticism from his party’s rank and file amid strong concerns that joining the Pacific Rim trade pact would destroy Japan’s agriculture sector, which has been a tradition source of votes for the LDP.

At a meeting held by one group of LDP lawmakers opposed to the TPP at the party’s headquarters Friday, Upper House member Shoji Nishida said he sees no merit in the accord, while Lower House lawmaker Minoru Kiuchi urged more transparency in discussing the issue, demanding more information about how Japan would benefit from taking part.