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Toyota Motor Corp. President Hiroshi Okuda assumed the post of chairman of the Japan Federation of Employers’ Associations (Nikkeiren) on Thursday amid expectations he will reinvigorate the nationwide employers’ group.

Okuda succeeded Jiro Nemoto, chairman of Nippon Yusen K.K., who served two two-year terms as chairman, during a annual meeting held in Tokyo.

Speaking at his inaugural news conference, Okuda vowed to make efforts to steer the nation’s unemployment rate down to around 3 percent, a level Nikkeiren perceives as full employment. It currently sits at a record high of 4.8 percent.

“It’s difficult to predict if the rate will increase or decrease,” Okuda said, “But in my personal opinion, I’m slightly pessimistic.”

To achieve and maintain his target, Okuda said Nikkeiren will move to establish safety nets for people who lose their jobs, and promote deregulation to help new businesses grow so they can provide new jobs.

Okuda also said he feels that people nowadays are putting too much emphasis on market mechanisms, warning that they are not almighty.

“I believe that we should seek a society with creative and healthy competition, which is a market-oriented economy with a human face — not a cold-hearted market economy,” he said.

Unemployment is one of the key issues Okuda is expected to tackle during his tenure as Nikkeiren chairman.

The corporate lobby seems to have pinned its hopes on the leader of Japan’s No. 1 automaker, who is known for his quick decision-making and straightforward manner of speaking.

Nikkeiren’s influence has been diminished in recent years as many companies and labor unions shifted away from organized, industrywide negotiations to company-by-company talks.

Okuda is scheduled to become chairman of Toyota Motor Corp. in late June, a move that is expected to let him be more active in business circles.

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