It has been nine months since the earthquake and tsunami devastated many parts of the Tohoku region. Prime Minister Noda��s priority has been to bring about the earliest possible recovery of the affected areas. The Government regards the next five years as the ��intensive recovery period��. With the passage of the Third Supplementary Budget worth almost ��100 billion on 21 November, approximately 80 per cent of the projected cost of the entire five-year programme has been secured.
Furthermore, on 7 December the Special Reconstruction Zone Act came into effect. This law provides for special treatment in terms of regulations and procedures as well as financial measures such as exemption from corporate tax for five years for newly-formed enterprises, and it calls for the establishment of a system of reconstruction grants whereby the state will provide the financial support deemed necessary for the recovery measures being rolled out by local authorities in the affected areas. It is the local authorities who are mainly involved in drawing up and implementing the plans for the special zones for reconstruction, but the special treatment and financial measures apply equally to domestic and foreign entities, so in order to ensure that the reconstruction programme unfolds in as open a manner as possible, Japan welcomes investment by foreign companies and the presence of tourists from overseas as partners in the recovery process. In terms of disseminating information and similar functions, Japan will work to create an environment conducive to the achievement of these objectives. With this unprecedented framework, Japan will accelerate its planned reconstruction measures.
A most heart-warming charity event took place recently to give hope to the teenagers in Tohoku. In response to the generosity of the Football Association (FA) in making the pitch at Wembley available, the Embassy and the Japan Chamber of Commerce & Industry in the UK, with the full cooperation of the Japan Football Association (JFA), invited 16 high school students from the areas affected by the earthquake and tsunami to visit the UK. On 24 November these teenagers, all keen footballers, played matches at the home of English football against teams from Teikyo School (UK) and London Japanese FC. Many players had lost their homes and confided in me that they had thought they would never be able to play football again. One of the players told me after the match that, while in the beginning he had not fully grasped the implications of the occasion, the moment he stood on the magnificent pitch, he became so thrilled that he even got goose-pimples! I have no doubt that the youngsters returned to Japan delighted by their unforgettable experience and with renewed hope for the future. I would like to thank the FA, the JFA and the many other organizations and individuals involved for making this event happen.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Noda, while not letting up on his efforts to engineer recovery from the disaster in March, has started to accelerate his diplomatic activities.
At the G20 Cannes Summit (3-4 November), he joined the other leaders in welcoming the euro area��s comprehensive plan to restore debt sustainability in Greece, strengthen the banks, build firewalls to prevent contagion and lay the foundations for the robust reform of economic governance in the euro area.
Previously, at the outset of the global financial crisis, during the Washington G20 Summit in 2008, Japan had decided to fire a ��big bazooka�� of $100 billion - yes, billion, not million - to be made available to the IMF for loans to financially squeezed member countries, primarily developing countries. Moreover, during the earlier phase of the European crisis, we had purchased a substantial amount - around 20 per cent - of European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) bonds. As Prime Minister Noda said, the current euro crisis is not a fire on the other side of the river. We stand ready to offer our help as long as the euro zone is prepared to help itself.
More recently, on the occasion of the G20 Summit, our two Prime Ministers held a bilateral meeting. In order to advance the Japan-EU partnership, Prime Minister Noda spoke of the importance of a Japan-EU economic partnership agreement (EPA), expressed his appreciation of the UK��s consistent support for a Japan-EU EPA, and declared that he would take the initiative in pressing for the early launch of negotiations and carry out regulatory and institutional reform. Prime Minister Cameron looked forward to Japan��s further efforts in this regard so that he could encourage other EU countries to support an EPA with Japan.
Japan has also been pushing forward free trade agreements with other key economies, including those in the Asia-Pacific region. In this context, Prime Minister Noda has been actively participating in regional gatherings, namely the APEC Summit in Honolulu (12-13 November) and the East Asia Summit (EAS), with the United States and Russia as new members from this year, as well as the Japan-ASEAN Summit held in Bali, Indonesia (17-19 November).
After the APEC gathering, he declared: ��I was able to reconfirm with the state leaders the unquestionable potential of the Asia-Pacific region, as the world��s growth engine.�� As regards the outcome of the meeting, it is worth highlighting three points as major achievements of Japan. Firstly, there was agreement on the common rules for removing trade barriers and fostering innovation to bring about economic growth across the region, as well as on efforts to spread eco-products for green growth. Secondly, the leaders agreed on establishing targets for improving energy efficiency in the entire APEC region. Thirdly, for the realisation of the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), Prime Minister Noda declared that Japan would enter into consultations towards participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations with the countries concerned. This decision was welcomed by several economies.
This has been the year of the Great East Japan Earthquake/and Tsunami. It has been a tragic, traumatic experience whose effects will be felt for a long, long time. But I was heartened to see the robust support extended by the international community, not the least by the United Kingdom.
I also see a bright ray of hope in the resilience and fortitude of the victims in the aftermath of the disaster as well as in the strong sense of solidarity among the Japanese people, including those who live abroad - as I have witnessed here in the UK.
On this hopeful note, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.