• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday once again urged business leaders to raise wages by 3 percent in fiscal 2018, and asked for aggressive investment to boost the country’s economy.

“To create a virtuous cycle in the economy, I ask you to hike wages by 3 percent,” Abe said in a speech at a party organized by Japan’s three major business lobbies to celebrate New Year’s.

Abe called for accelerated investment, particularly in the areas of artificial intelligence and the internet of things, to increase global competitiveness.

He presented a more specific figure for the fiscal year starting April, after asking for pay rises of more than 2 percent for the current fiscal year. Abe has repeatedly made such requests to help boost the country’s consumption, along with other “Abenomics” policy measures aimed at beating chronic deflation.

In October, Abe called on companies to accept 3 percent pay hikes in spring negotiations between management and labor unions.

Sadayuki Sakakibara, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, known as the Keidanren, supported Abe’s request for 3 percent wage hikes at a press conference following the New Year gathering.

“Earnings at Japanese firms are extremely strong… so wage hikes have become a social issue… I’m hoping wages will rise 3 percent,” Sakakibara said.

Akio Mimura, chairman of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, urged Japanese companies to use more of their rising cash holdings to raise wages, though cash-rich major firms have been cautious about reducing their savings. “Management should be embarrassed that cash is piling up. One way to use it is (to raise) wages,” he said at the news conference.

Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda told reporters at the party that his company “will hold intensive talks” with unions on wage hikes. The outcome at Toyota is seen as a bellwether for other Japanese companies in the annual spring wage negotiations. Toyoda also said 2018 will be a year of “speed and openness.” “The car industry is in the midst of a once-in-a-century transformation and we don’t know what the right answer is … so we need to be alert,” he said.

Panasonic Corp. Chairman Shusaku Nagae said that a 3 percent wage hike would be a “tough hurdle to clear,” noting that his company has increased basic pay for the past four years.

The party was organized by the Japan Business Federation, the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Japan Association of Corporate Executives.

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