Japanese commission urges eased regulation But details scarce in report readied for U.S. meeting

November 09, 1993|By New York Times News Service

TOKYO -- In its first effort to reduce the government's power over Japan's minutely regulated economy, a commission appointed by Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa yesterday called for the elimination or easing of 475 regulations governing the nation's legal and economic systems.

The proposals, which were in an interim report hastily prepared tTC so that Mr. Hosokawa can present it to President Clinton this month at a planned meeting in Seattle, were ambitious but conspicuous in their lack of details.

The commission proposed everything from making it simpler to open large department stores and liquor shops to encouraging housing construction and easing quotas on fish imports.

It called for creation of Japan's first product liability law and something that would mark a minor revolution in a country that permits dozens of cartels -- strict application of the anti-monopoly laws.

The report offered a vision of an economy making a historic turn toward freer markets, saying at one point: "Economic activity should be founded on the basic idea of freedom from regulations in principle, with regulated areas the exception."

Gaishi Hiraiwa, head of a powerful business organization and chairman of the commission, said at a news conference: "Our position is there are no sacred cows."

But several experts said there was little reason to believe that the plan would achieve any more success than several previous ones aimed at reducing the country's huge trade surpluses and presenting Japan as an unthreatening citizen of the world.

In addition, an appendix to the report merely listed 475 laws by name, without specifying in most instances what should be done about them.

Japan's trading partners have long pressed Tokyo to ease its regulations in order to increase competition, reduce prices and make it easier for foreign companies to sell their goods in Japan.

But some Japanese economists say the deregulation of Japan's markets will not necessarily lead to an increase in imports to Japan.

"In terms of Japan's surpluses, deregulation basically means nothing," said Yukio Noguchi, a leading economist and a professor at Hitotsubashi University. "This isn't the solution."

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