Sep 13, 2013

    Abe orders stimulus plan as he mulls sales-tax hike

    JAPAN'S prime minister has decided to hike the nation's sales tax next year, but will soften the blow with a US$50-billion (S$63-billion) stimulus package aimed at protecting a budding economic recovery, reports said yesterday.

    Mr Shinzo Abe, who has spearheaded a drive to turn around years of tepid growth, will press on with a plan to lift taxes to 8 per cent from the current 5 per cent in April, the Japanese media reported, a move seen as crucial to tackling a staggering national debt.

    Parliament has already passed a Bill to hike the rate, but Mr Abe has yet to make a decision on whether to enact it amid concerns that higher taxes will hit consumer demand and blunt a nascent recovery in the world's No. 3 economy.

    The reports from the Kyodo and Jiji Press news agencies yesterday did not make clear if another scheduled tax rise to 10 per cent by late 2015 was still in the pipeline.

    However, Mr Abe will also launch a fresh economic package worth about five trillion yen (S$63 billion) to cushion the increase, the news agencies and top-selling daily Yomiuri said, with Kyodo citing a source close to the Prime Minister.

    He is expected to formally announce the plan on Oct 1 at the earliest, they said.

    Broadcaster Asahi said Mr Abe made his decision based on recent upbeat economic data and Tokyo's successful bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games, which is expected to boost growth.

    However, the government disputed the reports, saying he had yet to make up his mind.

    "The Prime Minister will decide early next month" after examining economic data, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a Tokyo news briefing.

    But Mr Suga did acknowledge that Mr Abe ordered his ministers to draw up a stimulus plan as "there would be an impact on the economy if the consumption tax is raised".

    The Bank of Japan is to publish a closely watched quarterly business-sentiment survey next month, which will be pored over for more clues about the state of the country's economy.

    Tokyo has faced increasing pressure, including from the International Monetary Fund, to service a debt mountain that is proportionately the worst among industrialised nations at more than twice the size of the economy.