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Mitsuo Horiuchi, minister for international trade and industry, put explicit pressure Friday on three major gas companies to refrain from their planned gas rate hikes in April.Speaking at a regular news conference, Horiuchi expressed strong displeasure with Thursday’s announcement by Tokyo Gas Co., Toho Gas Co. and Osaka Gas Co. of their plan to raise rates. The announcement came only hours after an informal meeting between the minister and leaders of the gas industry, in which the presidents of the three firms pledged their maximum efforts to improve efficiency and reduce gas charges in line with the government’s economic structural reform.”I do expect that the three companies will soon tell us of their decision not to raise charges in April. Such a move will be welcome indeed,” Horiuchi said. “I am not putting on any pressure. I’m talking about common sense.” The planned rate hike is in line with a price adjustment system to reflect fluctuations in fuel prices on gas rates, in which gas companies review rates every three months based on fuel prices.Monthly gas charges for an average family are expected to increase by 42 yen to 67 yen in the April-June period due to higher costs of liquefied natural gas, according to the companies. While acknowledging the system, however, Horiuchi said that such a price system does not take into account individual companies’ efforts to improve cost efficiency. “Surely, the system is there. But it does not mean that companies have to increase charges even when they don’t have to do so,” he said.

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