Abe vows to double crop exports by 2020 as pillar of growth strategy

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged Friday to double the scale of Japan's crop exports to 1 trillion yen ($9.76 billion) by 2020 as a pillar of his government's economic growth strategy, with an eye on the country's entry into talks on the U.S.-led tariff-cutting pact.

Abe also said in a speech in Tokyo that the world's third-largest economy will aim to become a nation which allows not only Japanese companies but those abroad to put new technologies such as self-driving cars to the test exceptionally if they meet certain conditions.

His speech came amid lingering concerns that participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade could trigger an influx of cheaper farming products from overseas under lowered tariffs, severely damaging Japan's heavily protected agricultural sector.

To brush off the fear, the premier made a commitment to doubling agricultural earnings within 10 years through increases in exports of Japanese farm products and promotion of intensive farming.

The growth strategy is one of the "three arrows" of economic policies, dubbed "Abenomics," to pull Japan's economy out of nearly two decades of deflation, along with aggressive monetary easing and large-scale public works projects.

Ahead of the House of Councillors election this summer, Abe's administration and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party will do all they can to persuade the public that they are putting emphasis on shoring up the farm sector.

"The food industry is currently a 340-trillion-yen market across the globe, but the share of Japan's exports of agricultural and food products is only 450 billion yen. The potential is not like this," Abe said.

Demand for Japanese farm goods such as beef and fruits is likely to rise "given their reputation abroad" and sales of rice and sake are expected to grow "in relatively affluent areas in the world," Abe added.

Abe's administration, which has promised to flesh out the growth strategy before the Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland in mid-June, is aiming to foster agricultural productivity at home and enhance global competitiveness in the field, prior to the possible entry into the TPP.

All 11 countries involved in the free trade negotiations -- Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam -- officially announced last month they have given the green light to Japan's participation in the rule-making process.

To stimulate the economy, Abe also pledged to carry out regulatory reform to invite "promising firms from the world" to Japan by letting them conduct an experiment on new technologies they are developing.

The government will try to have foreign companies think, "Yes, Let's go to Japan," when they want to make a new departure, Abe said.

In an attempt to address Japan's tepid capital spending, Abe said his Cabinet will position the next three years as an "intensive investment-promotion period" and expand the scope of the nation's deregulation and tax cuts.

"We'll eliminate any factor impeding growth of investment at home," Abe said.

Japan will set the target of boosting the total amount of the investment by 10 percent during the period to bring it up to around 70 trillion yen each year, equivalent to the level seen before the 2008 financial crisis, he added.

Vowing to become the top salesman of Japanese state-of-the-art technologies and products, Abe said his government will triple exports of infrastructure-related business to 30 trillion yen by 2020.

He added the administration will ease the conditions for granting visas to foreign tourists to Japan in a bid to raise the annual number of them to 20 million in the future from the current 8 million.

Abe, who is keen on educational reform, also said the government will provide economic assistance to Japanese students who are eager to study abroad, aiming to increase the number of human resources who can play an international role in the future.

Among other programs, the government plans to establish a new organization designed to pump funds into the private sector to help bolster exports of "anime," music and other popular cultural contents under the theme of "Cool Japan," the premier said.

The second set of growth strategies on Friday follows the first package released in April, featuring medical, participation in the workforce, child-raising and employment measures, and comes ahead of the third one scheduled to be made public June 5, which will center on the promotion of private finance initiative projects.

At a meeting of a government panel on Friday, Abe's administration decided to take steps to increase the number of female scholars employed by research institutes to 30 percent of the total by 2016 to help strengthen the country's industrial competitiveness, officials said.