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Japan will push initiatives in the international community to realize the early launch of a round of trade liberalization talks under the World Trade Organization, Minister of International Trade and Industry Takeo Hiranuma said.

“To establish a free trade regime and activate world economic exchange, Japan must assert itself more and cooperate with other countries in proceeding (with efforts to swiftly launch the new round),” Hiranuma, 60, said in a recent interview.

The previous round of talks collapsed in December in Seattle.

The newly appointed minister stopped short of pledging to achieve the new launch by the end of the year, citing U.S. presidential elections slated for this autumn.

“The situation appears to be difficult in the United States with the change of the president,” Hiranuma said. “There certainly are obstructive factors involving politics.”

He also emphasized the need for Japan to pursue bilateral free-trade agreements with nations including Singapore and South Korea under the framework of WTO free-trade rules.

At an earlier inaugural press conference, Hiranuma said, “(A bilateral trade agreement) is something necessary for trade and economies to further develop under the current trend of globalization.”

Though he has served as transport minister and parliamentary vice minister for the Finance Ministry during his 20 years as a lawmaker, Hiranuma is a novice in the field of trade and industry.

The minister is also a strong advocate of revising the Constitution, and he has been actively engaged in the 50-member Lower House Research Commission on the Constitution, which began its deliberations in January.

Hiranuma said Japan will not abandon nuclear energy as there are no viable renewable energy alternatives at the current level of technology. He said Japan would not be able to prosper in the 21st century without nuclear power.

“Germany may give up on nuclear energy over the next 32 years, but circumstances differ from country to country,” Hiranuma said, adding that the government must disclose information and explain safety measures in the wake of recent nuclear power-related accidents before securing stable, long-term supplies of nuclear energy.

When asked about plans to build an additional 13 nuclear reactors by 2010, Hiranuma said: “There’s no way to give up on it at this stage. It is important to put our efforts into creating circumstances where (we) can build them.”

Hiranuma said he will encourage the filing of an application with the Paris-based Bureau of International Expositions in late August concerning Aichi Prefecture’s plan to host World Expo 2005.

Structural reform and deregulation will be emphasized in order to revitalize the information technology-related private sector and other growth areas in an effort to promote a self-sustaining economic recovery, Hiranuma said.

“For the private sector to gather its strength, we need to rectify the overall structure by removing regulations and various systematic obstacles one by one, while changing the taxation system into one that will reinforce (the private sector’s) strength,” Hiranuma said.

As the minister in charge of economic structural reform, Hiranuma will coordinate forthcoming meetings of a new state panel aimed at realizing Japan’s economic rebirth.

At the same time, Hiranuma underscored the need for expansionary fiscal policy, saying that a reserve fund of 500 billion yen set aside for public works projects and a possible supplementary budget should be used to trigger growth in promising areas such as IT, welfare and the environment.

Calling information and technology a “detonator” for the development of the Japanese economy in the 21st century, Hiranuma said he will steer the “IT revolution” through a new state panel on IT strategy in cooperation with other relevant government offices.