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The Bill on the National Strategic Special Zones: Prime Minister Abe’ s statement in the Cabinet Committee, House of Representatives (November 20, 2013)

On November 20, the bill on the National Strategic Special Zones was approved in the Lower House Cabinet Committee.
During the meeting, discussions took place with the Prime Minister Abe’s attendance, and the Prime Minister made the following statements.

Q (Manabu MATSUDA, Japan Restoration Party): I understand that the Special Zones is one of the critical cards of the Abenomics. However, it seems that the entailed reform menus are rather dissatisfying in comparison to its highfalutin title “National Strategy.” I have a concern that it may bring about an impression that the administration cannot get away from the vested interests or framework designed by the bureaucracy after all. With this regard, could you give us some comments that would eradicate such a concern if you have any?

A (Prime Minister ABE): Generally speaking, things tend to be understood through certain images casted on. Such criticisms as it is just a small-scale reform which only deals with easier-to-handle issues are not applicable this time. Although I do not mean to praise myself, I do believe this is a drastic legislation.
The items on which we gained results this time are the ones which the past administrations could not tackle with for many years, or even decades. Many regulatory proposals had been made throughout these years, but they had always been rejected. It includes the ones that couldn’t be legislated or implemented even though they were approved by the Cabinet officially. In particular, specification of employment rules, relaxation of regulation over the number of beds in hospitals, and lifting ban on the privately-managed public schools are the ones of which many had spoken in favor under the Koizumi administration, but could not be accomplished. The relooking of the agricultural committee can be listed as another example. I believe this is indeed a drastic reform. And I will steadily release this message both domestic and abroad to promote right understandings on this effort.

Q (MATSUDA): In order for the growth strategy of Abenomics to succeed, I believe it requires major reforms of such scale as to reshuffle the existing “postwar system” of Japan drastically. While I believe it will inevitably confront the existing vested interests, what is the extent of your decisiveness and what kind of vested interests are you prepared to fight against in realizing this National Strategic Special Zones?

A (Prime Minister): In the process of policymaking this time, I had asked the panel members from the private sector to play the role of attackers, instead of leaving the discussion to the government ministries. And the final decision was made by political responsibility, including that of myself. The strongly-composed team led by the chairman Tatsuo HATTA of the Special Zones Working Group took the initiative to select the subject reform items and even in the actual negotiation with the relevant government ministries. On these foots, and because I myself have given the final say, we were able to reach at this epochal achievement.
I believe that there is no end to regulatory or institutional reforms under my administration. I will continue to take the leadership to push forward such reforms in the field of medical care, employment, education, agriculture, etc., to turn Japan into a country where “the companies want to succeed the most in the world.”

Q (Toshiaki, OOKUMA, Your Party): I’ll ask on the Prime Minister’s understanding on the nature of the National Strategic Special Zones. Is this a new design to heighten freedom of business activities? Or, is it that the national government enters the field of business and starts a national project led by the national government? What is your understanding?

A (Prime Minister): The main player of the Special Zones is the private sector. We will implement regulatory reforms and other measures comprehensively and concretely to make an environment in which private, business operators to operate their businesses easily. It aims at promoting the private vitality by setting the surrounding in which it is easiest in the world to do business. Therefore, I believe that the private operators should play the role of promoting the business and investment, and the role of national government should be to set the environmental surrounding as such through regulatory reforms and other measures.

Q (Noriaki SASAKI, Japan Communist Party): You have said in the plenary session on November 8 that “with regard to drafting of the guideline on employment, we will not entrust the government ministries but elaborate it upon hearing experts’ views in the Council on Special Zones.” How are the things changing due to the guideline on employment? Also, do you mean that sketching of the guideline will be finally conducted u the responsibility of the Council on Special Zones, not the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare? Could you clarify on this?

A (Prime Minister): I understand that the problem residing with the existing employment rule is NOT that it is too strict. It has been problematic because of its ambiguity, instead. Therefore, a prescription should be neither abolishment nor relaxation of the existing rules but to sketch a new specific employment guideline and to monitor if the employment contracts are in line with the guidelineOur stance has been consistent since the initial plan through the current bill proposed at this time.
While the responsibility of sketching the guideline is left to the whole government, we plan to elaborate it upon hearing the opinions of members of Council on Special Zones, instead of delegating it to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare alone.

Furthermore, the consultation and/or advisory services based on the guideline will be implemented under supervision of the “Headquarter of Special Zone” comprised of members from the central government, local government and private sector in each Special Zones to ensure effective operation of the services, based on the needs of each local characteristics and originalities.

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