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New METI Minister Seko on growth strategy, nuclear power, TPP

Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko gave an interview to Sankei Shimbun and other media outlets on Aug. 4. Having been asked by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to be the “shock trooper” for the growth strategy, Seko indicated that he will champion technological innovation in the information industry, such as self-driving technology. Following is the gist of the interview:


Q: How will you work on the growth strategy?


Seko: Prime Minister Abe asked me to be the “shock trooper.” I would like to measure up to his expectations. I believe that the realization of the industrial revolution to use artificial intelligence, IoT, robots, and other technological innovation to bring about changes in the industrial sector and social life is at the core of investments on the future. The auto industry is very important for Japan. We must adopt policies to help the industry lead self-driving technology in the world so that it will continue to be the international leader.


Q: Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) continue to suffer hardships.


Seko: The economy is the top priority (of the present cabinet). I would like to come up with various policies to revitalize SMEs. I think the problem is despite the SMEs’ strenuous efforts, an environment that rewards their efforts is not in place. SMEs are disadvantaged structurally by the conventional practices in the subcontractor relationships. I believe it is important to make further efforts for stricter enforcement of the subcontracting law and to improve the terms for the SMEs in their transactions with big companies and companies placing orders.


Q: What policies are needed to strengthen the SMEs’ competitiveness?


Seko: The need to improve productivity and business management with the introduction of IT has long been suggested. For the SMEs’ unique problem of lack of successors, we would like to put in place a better support system to advise them on succession of business operations, not only between parents and children, but also succession by other people in the locality.


Q: Lack of progress in the reactivation of nuclear plants is also a problem.


Seko: We must make every possible effort to win the people’s understanding. It is necessary to very carefully explain the importance of nuclear plants and the extremely strict safety measures under the new standards. While government offices will stop at printing pamphlets or placing advertisements, having some experience in the PR business (at NTT), I would like to work on this in the spirit of the private sector, focusing on the extent to which we can gain understanding.


Q: How will you deal with the construction of new nuclear plants or the renovation of old ones?


Seko: I have not thought about this issue at this point. The Strategic Energy Plan, which is Japan’s basic energy policy, is very important. I would like to seek the advice of the relevant officials and experts and study this carefully.


Q: Kagoshima Governor Satoshi Mitazono is asking Kyushu Electric Company to suspend operations at the Sendai Nuclear Plant.


Seko: I am aware of the governor’s statements. I think the only option will be to listen to his views first, engage in patient dialogue, and come up with an appropriate response.


Q: Deliberation on the ratification of the TPP agreement and related bills has run into difficulty in the Diet.


Seko: Open, fair, and high-level international economic rules are essential for Japan, which lacks resources, to pass on prosperity to the next generation. The summit of TPP nations last November agreed to aim for the early ratification of the accord. I think it is necessary for Japan to work toward this goal in good faith.


Q: The two candidates in the U.S. presidential election are both opposed to the TPP.


Seko: It is not appropriate for me as the minister of economy, trade and industry to guess the true intent of the candidates. However, I believe the U.S. government feels the same way (as Japan). Since this is an international commitment made in the form of a basic agreement, the present administration (Obama administration) should naturally make efforts to achieve ratification. (Slightly abridged)

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