Japan's economic data laying groundwork for sales tax hike: Minister

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Improvements in the jobless rate, industrial production and consumer prices are helping to pave the way for the government to implement a planned increase in the sales tax, Japanese Economics Minister Akira Amari said on Friday.

Mr Amari, speaking to reporters, also said a rise in core consumer prices at the fastest pace in nearly five years shows that the economy is in the process of escaping deflation.

"If it's a question of whether today's data is positive or negative for implementing the sales tax, then you could say it's positive," he said.

"Japan is escaping from deflation."

The government is holding hearings with economists and business leaders this week that are intended to help Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decide how to proceed with the planned increase in the sales tax.