STRATEGY FOR GROWTH HAS SOME BLANKS

The Japanese government is set to approve a new growth strategy billed as a fundamental rethinking of the economy, tackling deflation and renewing its energy policy after the natural and nuclear disasters last year.

The plan contain some impressive targets, like helping create more than ¥100 trillion, or $1.278 trillion, worth of new industry and 4.7 million new jobs in field like renewable energies and medicine by 2020.

But despite the grand headlines, the strategy adds little to vague promise made by Japanese policy makers for months, if not years, with few results.

The government will continue to watch financial markets closely and will take decisive action when necessary, the report offers as a way to break what it says is a vicious cycle of a strong yen and deflation that has weighed on economic growth.

And though the strategy identifies Japan’s aging, shrinking population as a major impediment to growth, it suggest few new ways of dealing with it. There is no ne approach to immigration –a traditionally sensitive topic in Japan, which sees itself as an ethnically uniform country- and merely hints of tweaking immigration rules to try to attract more skilled workers, and only after further discussion.

The strategy sets a target for raising the percentage of new mothers who are able to return to work to about 55 percent, an increase experts say would immediately help the work force, and encourage women to have more children. But the strategy does not appear to give much priority to addressing a severe ahortage in day care in Japanese cities, for example, which might help families balance careers and child rearing.

The document remains vague on other contentious topics, skirting a much debated trans-Pacific free trade agreement that would benefit the country’s exporters but is opposed by the powerful farming lobby.

The strategy does outline plans that would make Japan a leader in renewable energy and environmental technologies. It calls for policies that would bolster the ratio of fuel-efficient cars like gas-electric hybrids and electric vehicles to 50 percent of new car sales by 2020.

It promises to help Japanese companies attain 50 percent of the surging rechargeable battery market by the same year. But it leaves the all-important decision on Japan’s post-Fukushima energy mix to another committee that is debating energy policy.

The government has said it wants to reduce Japan’s dependence on nuclear power, which used to provide about 30 percent of the country’s electricity needs. The committee is now studying various new scenarios –from reducing that ratio to about 25 percent, to one that would take Japan off nuclear power entirely- and is expected to come up with a recommendation later this year.

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