• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday pledged to implement measures in 2018 to improve Japan’s social welfare system and help the country cope with the declining birthrate and aging population.

“This year will be a time to act,” Abe said in his New Year statement, referring to a plan to improve social welfare, part of his party’s platform during last October’s general election campaign.

“My administration will aggressively push forward reform measures to build a new nation, keeping our eyes fixed on the future, to 2020 and beyond,” he said.

Abe’s term as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party expires in September, but he is widely expected to seek another three years in the job.

“Japan can achieve strong growth if we can build a society in which everyone can fulfill their potential,” he said, touting his proposed labor reforms that aim to increase women’s participation in the workforce.

Meanwhile, the head of Japan’s largest business lobby has vowed to push members to improve their corporate governance following a recent string of scandals that have shaken international trust in Made-in-Japan quality.

In a recent interview with media outlets, Sadayuki Sakakibara, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, or Keidanren, said he hopes to “win back the public’s trust” after a year in which Nissan Motor Co. and Subaru Corp. were discovered to have let uncertified staff carry out safety checks on cars, and a number of other companies revealed they had falsified data on product quality.

One of those companies, chemicals firm Toray Industries Inc., was where Sakakibara made his name as president and chairman.

Keidanren has already called on its 1,350 member companies to look for malpractice within their own ranks. It plans to release their results in late January.

Sakakibara also showed willingness to answer Abe’s call for a 3 percent wage increase, a step his administration sees as crucial to sustained economic growth.

“We will give the issue serious consideration while keeping an eye on public expectations and also corporate profits,” Sakakibara said. In January, the lobby is expected to decide to urge members to raise wages for a fifth straight year in the 2018 shunto “spring offensive” labor negotiations.

Abe has promised tax cuts to companies that raise wages in an attempt to boost household spending and lift inflation toward the Bank of Japan’s 2 percent target.

Regarding current business conditions, Sakakibara said the world’s third-largest economy is “beginning to recover more firmly” amid robust demand for exports.

“I hope 2018 will be the year that we beat deflation,” he said.

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