The House of Representatives Committee on Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications opened debate Thursday over a set of four postal services deregulation bills.

At the opening of the meeting, the government gave a presentation to explain the purpose of the new legislation.

The package includes a bill that would allow private firms to begin offering mail services under certain conditions and one to establish a new public corporation in 2003 to take over the three government-run postal services of mail, postal savings and “kampo” life insurance.

Question-and-answer sessions will follow on Tuesday, kicking off full-fledged debate over the controversial bills.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi voiced strong resolve to get the bills passed during the current Diet session despite opposition from many lawmakers in both the ruling and opposition camps.

Koizumi is caught in a political battle with senior Liberal Democratic Party officials who are vehemently opposed to the bills.

He has long championed full liberalization of the postal services, designating it a key element in his structural reform efforts, but the plan is running into increasingly stiff opposition.

Koizumi hails courier

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Thursday welcomed reports that a courier company plans to enter the mail-delivery market in Tokyo and its vicinity in April.

“I hope the entry will intensify competition” and lead to improved service, Koizumi said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported Thursday that Sokuhai Co. plans to launch an express mail service in the Tokyo metropolitan area after the expected passage of a bill on postal-services deregulation.

Tokyo-based Sokuhai, established in 1984, relies on a fleet of 800 motorcycles and bicycles to deliver business items within a few hours to clients in the Tokyo and Osaka areas.

Commenting on the news report, a Sokuhai official said the company will have to decide whether to launch a mail service after relevant ordinances are established following the bill’s anticipated passage through the Diet.

The postal deregulation bill would allow private firms to handle mail delivery on certain conditions, such as delivery within three hours.

The bill is one of four postal bills the government submitted to the Diet earlier this month. Koizumi is a strong advocate of freeing up the postal services.

“I expect firms to enter the (mail delivery) market one after another” following the move by Sokuhai, Koizumi said.

It remains uncertain whether Koizumi’s postal bills will pass the ongoing Diet session.

Some senior members of Koizumi’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, especially those with vested interests in the postal services, are stiffly opposed to postal deregulation.

In April, Yamato Transport Co., Japan’s largest door-to-door courier, scrapped plans to enter the mail-delivery market, complaining that the proposed postal deregulation would place exceedingly tough requirements on prospective entrants.

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