Amid the deepening economic gloom and growing layoffs at home and abroad, corporate and government leaders in the Kansai region gathered Thursday in Kyoto for an annual two-day seminar on economic, political and social issues.

Only the day before the kickoff of the Kansai Economic Seminar, Osaka-based Panasonic Corp. announced it will cut 15,000 jobs and close down 27 plants worldwide as it braces for an estimated ¥380 billion loss for the year ending March 31.

That announcement prompted warnings and criticism from senior business leaders gathered at the Kyoto International Conference Center, while senior lawmakers in attendance urged companies to do their best to avoid mass layoffs.

“Employees are part of a corporation’s assets. What happens when they simply cut employees based on numbers?” asked Kansai Economic Federation Chairman Hiroshi Shimozuma in his opening address.

“It’s important that corporations pursue not only efficiency but also the public welfare and growth,” added Norihiko Saito, head of the Kansai Association of Corporate Executives.

Hiroyuki Sonoda, a senior Liberal Democratic Party member of the Lower House, called on Kansai’s business leaders to think of the impact of further layoffs.

“I realize times are tough, but there are social responsibilities to think of,” Sonoda said.

As to the cause of the global economic crisis, Kansai’s leaders cited loose U.S.-style capitalism and lax management practices, which they said led to greed and irresponsibility in international markets.

Some suggested Japan could weather the current economic crisis better than other countries because of geography.

“This year will be tough. But if Japan takes advantage of the fact that it’s close to China and India, Asia’s centers of technology and investment, there will be chances for growth,” Shimozuma said.

Kansai has long tied its economic fortunes more closely to Asia than to North America and Europe. Of the region’s nearly ¥30 trillion in international trade in 2007, about ¥17.5 trillion, or 58 percent, was with Asia. China is the Kansai region’s top trading partner, accounting for about ¥7.6 trillion in imports and exports in 2007.

But with the worldwide economic downturn hitting Asia as well, economic forecasts for Kansai are being revised downward. The Kansai Institute for Social and Economic Research predicted last month that the region’s economy would contract 0.8 percent in fiscal 2009, but expand by about 1.3 percent next fiscal year.

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