I would like to express my deepest condolences to all who suffer from the earthquake that struck the northeast Japan on March 11. I am convinced that by working as one, we the Japanese people can overcome this extraordinary challenge. The Japanese business community will continue to make all-out effort to bring safety and security back to the people's lives at the earliest possible time.
Japan has entered an era in which the population continues to decline and age with low birth rates, while it is faced with the massive tide of globalization. Japan needs to chart the way forward now, setting out clearly what kind of economy and society it will work to develop in the future. In the meantime, a remarkable opportunity has emerged: participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). We should seize the chance, facing up to the situation where we find ourselves today and determined to take on the challenges of global competition. We should "open Japan to the world" and undertake domestic structural reforms immediately. Missing the moment would be a great loss for future generations.
The world's major economies are stepping up efforts to expand their network of economic partnership as part of a post-Great Recession long-term growth strategy. Last month, Japan concluded a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with India, which is expected to maintain high economic growth in the years ahead. While it was a great step forward for Japan, our Asian neighbor South Korea has already signed free trade agreements (FTAs) with the United States and the European Union, two of the largest advanced economies in the world. Japan should not lag behind in these efforts.
The TPP has evolved from the Pacific-Rim concept that Japan once advocated. Opt-out from the TPP cannot be an option for Japan, which thus far has benefited significantly from free trade and is firmly committed to the further development of the trade system. It is true that there are many issues to be addressed, such as structural reform of Japan's agricultural industry. But it is certain that by achieving higher-level economic partnership while also enhancing the technological prowess and increasing the competitiveness of industries, from agriculture to manufacturing, Japan will be able to achieve sustained economic growth and at the same time contribute to solving various challenges facing the world. The TPP should be considered as the groundwork for this growth plan.
Japan has not recovered yet from the "two lost decades", but I trust the strength of the country. Now is the time to believe in ourselves and give it all we have to win global competition.