Abe to rule new special zone panel

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is planning to establish and head a new government panel to promote deregulation by launching special economic zones, part of his economic growth strategy, government sources said Monday.

Abe told a Diet committee that he may even exclude some Cabinet members from the decision-making process if they focus too much on protecting the interests of industries under their jurisdiction and retard the deregulation debate. The remark was viewed as a reference to the highly protected farm and health care industries.

“We will consider not involving (ministers overseeing relevant industries) in the decision-making,” Abe said, apparently supporting a rare view within his Liberal Democratic Party that the ministers in charge could slow down the reform by protecting the interests of the targeted industries.

Establishing the panel would be stipulated under a bill the government is working on and which will be submitted to the Diet during the extra session slated to end in December.

The “strategic special zones,” as they are called, would provide tax breaks and other steps to help companies succeed in certain sectors, including agriculture and health care.

The new Abe-chaired panel would have strong enforcement powers, like the existing Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, which exerts strong influence in drawing up the state budget and in crafting economic policy, the sources said.

Its members would be limited to the chief Cabinet secretary, some economic ministers and people from the private sector, they added.

Some municipalities and businesses have already proposed nearly 200 projects that could be promoted under the proposed law. The government is expected to screen and narrow down the number and designate three to five special zones next year.

Speaking to a session of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, Abe said that in establishing special zones, the government would also set up a decision-making body to determine the details of each and limit the number of people involved in the process.

Agriculture and health care are widely seen as protected from competition by the use of stringent regulations.