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Japan Prime Minister's Toughest Test

The trade pact could lend some heft to reform efforts aimed at deregulating and opening the economy. But much wider reforms are needed to cope with Japan's fast-aging and shrinking population, its energy crisis and soaring public debt.

"We need a clear road map. Unlike in the past, we cannot keep things as they are," Norihiko Ishiguro, of the Economic and Industrial Policy Bureau at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, told a recent forum organized by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Ishiguro said Japan wants to capitalize on its competitive strengths in technology and services and foster more innovation and entrepreneurship. However, apart from talk of speeding approvals for new pharmaceuticals and medical devices and expanding use of robots to help relieve a shortage of care workers, few details have emerged.

The reforms are "full of complicated issues," said Adachi. "Even if you succeed in some areas or all areas, there is no guarantee the economy will get better. Certainly the impact will not come in a short time," he said.

A similar set of reforms in Germany, launched in 2000, took a decade to bear results, said Grimes.

Japan needed these changes years earlier, he said. "We may be moving into the range where the opportunities have passed for having a really big impact."
Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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