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Panel sends Abe 230 reform ideas to juice growth

Kyodo

A government panel tasked with regulatory reform on Friday came up with around 230 measures aimed at fueling economic growth through medical, employment and farm deregulation.

The proposals, submitted to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, could become a centerpiece of his revamped “third arrow” growth strategy due to be compiled on June 27, but some analysts say many of the steps further the interests of business lobbyists and might bring little benefit to consumers.

The Council for Regulatory Reform, headed by Sumitomo Corp. adviser Motoyuki Oka, presented a package of recommendations and stressed the importance of reforms to give people more choice.

In the farm sector, the panel called for an overhaul of the Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives, the umbrella organization for agricultural cooperatives around the country, known as JA-Zenchu, so local cooperatives would be allowed to operate more freely.

The council also proposed transforming the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations, known as JA Zen-noh, into a stock company in the future. JA Zen-noh markets the agricultural products of its cooperatives.

It also proposed that a panel be set up to revise regulations on dancing at nightclubs, prompting the National Police Agency to announce a new panel the same day.

In the medical sector, the panel called for an expanded system of medical treatment combining insured and uninsured services based on patients’ wishes. Japan has permitted 94 uninsured advanced medical treatments to be combined with insured treatments, mainly for research purposes.

The proposed deregulation would let patients receive such treatments with a maximum delay of only two weeks or so. It also aims to increase the number of medical institutions where such treatments are available.

For cases involving unapproved drugs, the panel called for shortening the approval time to about six weeks from six to seven months at present.

While the steps are expected to offer broader markets to medical equipment manufacturers and drugmakers, doctors’ associations and health insurance societies oppose the reforms, arguing they would threaten the safety of medical products and services.

As employment-related deregulation measures, the panel proposed promotion of a merit-based pay system under the so-called white collar exemption system, which makes it possible for employers to pay some workers not by the hour but by achievement. Some worry that companies might take advantage of it to cut personnel costs.

The council also urged the introduction of a system that obliges companies to ensure that workers take all their granted holidays.