Japan’s newly appointed minister of economy, trade and industry said Wednesday that he will focus on bringing the economy back onto a sustainable growth track and pushing forward with the national energy policy of resuming nuclear power generation.
Motoo Hayashi, one of the 10 new ministers appointed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a Cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday, vowed to lift Japan “completely” out of the deflation that has hobbled the world’s third-biggest economy since the mid-1990’s.
The pledge reflects Abe’s new political campaign, as the prime minister is shifting his priority back to the economy from controversial security policy changes. But that poses a daunting challenge given the slowdown in China, the world’s second-largest economy, which also threatens global economic growth.
Speaking at his first press conference at the ministry, Hayashi voiced high hopes that the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement reached Monday will drive growth in the auto and other sectors. The 12-country trade pact covers 40 percent of the global economy, lifting 99.9 percent of tariffs on industrial products for Japan within the Pacific Rim trade zone.
Hayashi, 68, will also face the delicate task of overseeing the resumption of nuclear power generation despite a majority of the public opposing the restart of nuclear plants, which previously provided nearly a third of the nation’s electric power.
“We will try to gain public understanding (for the safety of nuclear power plants) to move forward (reactor) restarts,” he said.
A power company restarted a nuclear reactor in Kyushu in August, making it the first to return to operation since stricter safety regulations were introduced in the wake of the 2011 start of the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. More reactors are expected to be restarted as well.
The new minister said he hopes “the world’s highest level” of safety rules implemented in light of the Fukushima disaster will help persuade the public of the safety of nuclear power plants.
Hayashi became senior vice minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism in 2003 and has since held Cabinet posts twice — as state minister who chaired the National Public Safety Commission in 2008 and in 2009 — but was forced to leave them in less than three months due to a change in power.