What are national strategic special zones?

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) — What is Japan's national strategic special zone system?

Q What is the national strategic special zone system?
A. It is a system to spur economic growth by relaxing regulations in certain areas designated by the government. Based on the National Strategic Special Zones Law passed in 2013, the government began designating “zones and areas” that could introduce looser regulations in 2014.

So far, 10 areas and zones across Japan have been designated, including the Tokyo area and the Kansai area. A zone straddling multiple prefectures — Hiroshima Prefecture/Imabari City (Ehime Prefecture) — was designated in 2016. The zones offer relaxed regulations in 11 sectors including tourism and medicine, and have, for example, enabled private companies to acquire farmland.

 Local governments in areas designated as special zones compile business plans after selecting projects to be implemented from a menu of regulatory reforms covering more than 50 categories. Under the structural reform special zone system launched by the administration of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, regulations would not be eased if the central government’s ministries and agencies did not approve the proposal put forward by the local government. 

 Under the national strategic special zone system, an advisory council chaired by the prime minister certifies the projects. Previously, disagreement among government ministries and agencies prevented deregulation from proceeding. Based on this lesson, the government aims to follow a top-down approach to make the plans reality.

Q. What about opposition to the relaxing of regulations?

A. Industry groups and other entities affected by relaxed regulations have often voiced opposition to the changes. In April, the International University of Health and Welfare, located in Otawara, Tochigi Prefecture, opened a new school of medicine in Narita, Chiba Prefecture. This had been opposed by groups including the Japan Medical Association, who insisted that “even if the school produces more doctors, it won’t help alleviate the nation’s unbalanced distribution of doctors.” Also, the hotel industry raised its voice against a Tokyo ward’s lifting of a ban on “minpaku” accommodation services to allow private homes to offer lodging to guests for a fee.

Q. Why will a new veterinary medicine department be established in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture?

A. Kyoto Sangyo University wanted to establish a new veterinary medicine department within Kyoto Prefecture, but in November 2016, the special zones council took the stance that a new department could be established “only in a region which does not already have a veterinary medicine department within a wide area.” Because a veterinary medicine department already existed in the Kansai region and for other reasons, Kyoto Sangyo abandoned its plan. In the end, only Okayama-based Kake Educational Institution remained committed to building such a department.

 Kake’s desire to set up a veterinary medicine department emerged as far back as when the then-Democratic Party of Japan was in power. In March 2010, the administration of former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama rolled back the previous decision that Kake’s request “was impossible to address,” and said it would “study the plan with a view to realizing it.”


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