Japan Premier Kishida pledges to relax border controls by next month

Border easing would be welcomed by Japan's tourism industry. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he would loosen Japan's virus-related border controls in line with other wealthy democracies next month, as he sought to boost consumer spending to fight an economic slowdown.

Mr Kishida credited the border controls with helping the country weather the pandemic relatively well, even as he announced their relaxation on Thursday (May 5) in a speech in London.

The Premier told an audience at Guildhall that Japan would be as accessible as other Group of Seven (G-7) countries by next month, when leaders of the bloc are due to meet in Germany.

"We will further relax controls so that in June, it will be possible to enter the country as smoothly as other G-7 nations," said Mr Kishida, who was on the last leg of a tour that also took him to Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Italy.

In a later press conference, he added a note of caution, saying that the changes would be implemented in stages, based on the advice of experts.

More broadly, Mr Kishida pledged to pursue policies that fuel strong economic growth, in remarks that appeared aimed at easing investor concern about his "New Capitalism" plans.

"I will continue to listen carefully to the markets, to those on the ground, and press ahead with policies," he said.

He said he would encourage citizens to switch to investment from savings, significantly expanding the Nippon Individual Savings Account (Nisa) system and adding other policies with the aim of doubling income from assets.

Japan has trailed the United States in growing household financial assets, Mr Kishida said.

The Nisa programme was launched in 2014 and modelled on Britain's Individual Savings Account programme. It allows individuals to invest as much as 1.2 million yen (S$12,750) a year in accounts without being taxed on capital gains and dividends.

The programme was designed to promote investment in stocks in a country where only around 26 per cent of those over 20 own shares or mutual funds, according to a Nomura Asset Management report last year.

Border easing would be welcomed by Japan's tourism industry, which has been urging the government to allow in more overseas visitors to take advantage of the weakening yen.

Until the pandemic, tourism was a rare bright spot for Japan's economy as the number of foreign visitors expanded fivefold between 2011 and 2019.

Due to strict border measures, the number of foreign visitors slumped from nearly 32 million in 2019 to 250,000 in 2021.

Countries including South Korea and New Zealand have recently reopened to tourists, although China's borders are effectively sealed as the country pursues a Covid-19-zero strategy.

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