Japan to offer $12.5b aid to Africa: Reports

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan is to pledge at least US$10 billion (S$12.5 billion) in aid to Africa for the next five years, reports said on Friday, as Tokyo prepares to host a major development conference for the resource-rich continent.

Coupled with expected corporate investments, Japan's public and private sectors look set to pour around three trillion yen (S$37.5 billion) into Africa by 2018, as Japan Inc. rushes for a piece of the promising African market, the Nikkei said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will announce the government's official development aid worth at least one trillion yen at the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), the business daily and the Sankei Shimbun reported.

The three-day, five-yearly conference will kick off on Saturday in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, with leaders of more then 40 African countries and senior figures from international organisations expected to be present.

Despite relatively long-standing connections, Japan's importance to Africa has slipped behind that of China, whose more aggressive approach has given it five times the trading volume and eight times the direct investment.

At the forum, Japanese officials will stress the need to boost trade and investment between the world's third largest economy and Africa, in a bid to transform the relationship from an aid-led one to a business partnership.

In addition to the aid, the Japanese government will also double to 500 billion yen a fund earmarked for providing loan guarantees and investment for infrastructure and resource development projects tied to Japanese firms, the Nikkei said.

Earlier this month, Mr Abe pledged he would travel the world to promote Japanese road, rail and power grid technology in a bid to treble infrastructure exports to 30 trillion yen a year by 2020 as he seeks to jumpstart Japan's slumbering economy.