The growing Chinese market presents huge investment opportunities for Japanese companies, Li Peng, chairman of the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress, said Wednesday in Tokyo.

Li, who started an eight-day visit to Japan on Tuesday, also asked Japan to lift restrictive trade measures against Chinese farm imports, especially poultry.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry has a ban in place on chicken imports from China, the United States and other places affected by a fowl epidemic.

Li, who holds the No. 2 post in the Communist Party hierarchy, said demand for environmental protection in China will increase as its economy grows, providing opportunities for Japanese firms with technology in that field.

“As the Chinese economy grows in the 21st century, its market will expand and provide Japanese businesses with opportunities, he said. “It will not be a threat.”

Li made the remarks during a luncheon meeting jointly hosted by the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations (Keidanren), the Japan Federation of Employers’ Associations (Nikkeiren), the Japan Association of Corporate Executives and three other business groups.

Li said he expects China’s economic growth to continue at an annual rate of around 7 percent through 2010, adding that investment opportunities are rife in the infrastructure, environment and high-technology sectors — areas China is already focusing on.

But he added that even at such a rate, China still has some catching up to do with Japan.

“The size of the Chinese economy is still small compared to that of Japan. And in terms of per capita growth, there is still a big gap,” said Li, who is due to step down from his party post later this year before retiring as parliament chief next March.

Li had some words of encouragement for his audience of around 120 business executives.

“There are views that the Japanese economy is showing weakness. I don’t think so. Japan is still the world’s No. 2 economy. Its technological and educational levels are high,” he said.

“Once it carries out structural reform, I believe that it will regain energy. I hope that it will recover soon, as it will lead to an increase in trade between our two countries.”

Hiroshi Okuda, chairman of both Nikkeiren and Toyota Motor Corp., said the two nations share one of the largest business partnerships today, adding that the total amount of trade last year hit $89.1 billion, more than 60 times the total in 1972 when the two countries normalized diplomatic relations.

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