Japan PM lays out next steps in growth revival, with a focus on women

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's Prime Minister Friday unveiled new growth strategies with a special focus on expanding business opportunities for women and providing job training for young people.

Shinzo Abe also boasted of the benefits of his controversial big-spending, easy-money policies - dubbed "Abenomics" - that have fuelled optimism in an economy that has struggled for two decades.

"Who are the human resources that Japan has failed make the best use of? They are women," he said in a special press address.

"I believe they make up the core of our growth strategy. I firmly believe that talented women using their abilities could become an economic driving force for Japan," he said.

Abe pledged to work with the business sector to provide measures to encourage working mothers, such as improved availability of day-care services.

Experts in and out of Japan have long argued that the country must bring more women into the workplace to broaden the nation's male-dominated, shrinking labour market, which is being hit by retiring babyboomers and a falling birthrate.

Abe also said he has already started discussions with business leaders about providing employment measures for young people, especially about ways to encourage them to study abroad to acquire skills necessary to compete with foreign rivals.

The new measures were short on detail, but were the latest attempt by Abe to define policy initiatives that have so far cheered investors and business sentiment.

The address comes as Abe's aides suggest economic reforms, including setting up special business districts with lowered corporate taxes and lighter regulation in a bid to attract foreign investors.

Since his December election victory Abe has surprised many with an economic pragmatism that has borne fruit, reversing his image as an out-of-touch nationalist from a political family.

The headline Nikkei index at the Tokyo Stock Exchange has soared nearly 50 percent since he took the helm of the Liberal Democratic Party in September.

The yen has plunged from 77.72 to the dollar to 98.45.

Many economists have warned that Abe's policies are a risky gamble with no long-term certainty except for further worsening Tokyo's already huge debt burden.

But intoxicating market rallies and the yen's precipitous slide have found favour in the business community, forcing critics of Abenomics to the sidelines.