KYOTO — Kansai’s corporate leaders concluded their annual seminar Thursday by calling on Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s government to swiftly join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement, and for increased investment in infrastructure projects they say are necessary for the region to compete with Asia.

“Kansai aims to become an Asian hub for goods, people and knowledge. For that, Kansai airport and the Osaka-Kobe harbor area need to be made internationally competitive, and the linear bullet train needs to extended to Osaka,” a declaration released at the end of the Kansai Economic Seminar said.

Much of the discussion at this year’s meeting focused on local politics, especially Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto’s efforts to revitalize Osaka.

The governor’s efforts to merge the city of Osaka and Osaka Prefecture, to close Itami airport and to eventually realize a semiautonomous Kansai state are measures originally proposed by Kansai’s corporate leaders.

But there was a distinct coolness toward Hashimoto’s own idea of a maglev line to link Osaka Station and Kansai airport.

In December, the goal of a semiautonomous Kansai region took its first step toward realization, as governors from seven Kansai prefectures met to discuss ways to cooperate more efficiently.

The Union of Kansai Governments, as the meetings are known, is acknowledged by supporters and opponents to be a forerunner of an eventual, single Kansai state.

However, Nara Prefecture has refused to join the union, saying the concept is too vague and one large Kansai state could result in greater bureaucratic inefficiency than separate prefectures and lead to a loss of local democracy.

Nara’s refusal to participate was cause for complaint among many seminar participants, who said the Nara governor should at least attend meetings as an observer.

As for national politics, this year’s seminar was particularly pessimistic on the leadership of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, which some in the media say is unlikely to last to the end of the year.

Some participants predicted a Lower House election will be held as early as March, although many believed a summer election, following April’s nationwide local elections, is a more likely scenario.

Seminar attendees worried that April’s results will see large numbers of mayors, governors and assemblies in rural areas oppose the TPP.

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