*Note: This is a provisional translation for reference purposes only.
Tuesday, October 26, 2021
Press Conference Room, METI
Soaring Crude Oil Prices
Good morning. I would like to say one thing at the start.
As the government's response to the rise in crude oil prices, Prime Minister Kishida instructed me on the 18th last week to approach major oil producing countries and ask them to increase production. In response to this, I held a video conference yesterday, Monday the 25th, with H.E. Suhail Mohamed Al Mazrouei, UAE's Minister of Energy and Infrastructure. I urged him to cooperate toward stabilizing the international crude oil market by ensuring an ample supply, including through increased production.
We are also coordinating a meeting with H.R.H. Prince Abdulaziz Bin Salman Al-Saud, Saudi Arabia's Minister of Energy. We will continue our approaches through various channels.
In addition, at the administrative level, we have already started approaching other major oil producing countries, while communicating with the IEA and the United States. We will encourage action at all levels while monitoring international trends in the energy market, including crude oil price trends, and their impact on the Japanese economy.
That is all from me.
Soaring Crude Oil Prices
Q: Our first question is about the rise in crude oil prices you have just mentioned.
You said that besides asking oil producing countries to increase production, METI was also going to consider other approaches, including setting up a consultation desk. Could you tell us about the progress made since then, and the concrete measures going forward?
A: Taking into account the instructions given by Prime Minister Kishida, METI will closely monitor the trends in crude oil prices and petroleum products in Japan, and continue to appeal to major oil producers to increase production. If the crude oil prices continue to soar, we will work with the relevant ministries and agencies to implement flexible measures so that economic activity is not hampered.
As I said at the beginning regarding the government's response to the rise in crude oil prices, I held a video conference with the UAE Minister and urged cooperation toward stabilizing the international crude oil market by ensuring an ample supply, including through increased production.
On that basis, we will assess the impact on individual industries including SMEs, and if the impact becomes significant, we will immediately consider taking measures such as setting up a consultation desk for SMEs, providing funding assistance, and requesting due consideration for ensuring fair trade.
Strategic Energy Plan
Q: The other question is about the Strategic Energy Plan approved by the Cabinet on the 22nd. This was the first revision since the declaration of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. We would like to ask for your thoughts on it again, and what efforts will be made in the future to gain the understanding of companies and households toward decarbonization.
A: Having been deliberated on since last October, the Strategic Energy Plan was approved by the Cabinet on the 22nd. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station accident. The Japanese government believes that steadily moving forward with the reconstruction of Fukushima and giving utmost priority to safety over all other considerations are fundamental premises for implementing energy policy, and this principle has been clearly restated in this Strategic Energy Plan.
Based on that, this Strategic Energy Plan has been formulated with two key themes: (1) showing the approach in energy policy toward achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and new GHG emission reduction targets for FY2030; and (2) moving forward with energy policies based on the fundamental principle of S+3E, in order to solve challenges facing Japan's energy supply and demand structure.
Becoming carbon neutral by 2050 and achieving the new emission reduction targets for FY2030 are no easy tasks, and Japan needs to make a concerted effort toward them. In order to achieve both these goals and a stable and inexpensive energy supply, we intend to spare no effort toward implementing energy policies based on the Strategic Energy Plan, in cooperation with the relevant ministries and agencies.
Soaring Crude Oil Prices
Q: I have two questions.
You mentioned at the beginning that you asked the UAE to increase production. What was their response?
My second question is on a different topic. COP26 will start at the end of this month, and the UK is urging developed countries to commit to phasing out coal-fired power generation by 2030. How is Japan going to respond to that?
A: First of all, I will refrain from discussing the details of the video conference, but I believe that the minister now has a good understanding of our country's position as a consumer. Based on that, we have agreed that we should continue to work closely together. We will continue to appeal to major oil producing countries to increase production through various channels.
I believe that COP26 is an important opportunity for countries to make progress through cooperative action on the urgent global issue that is climate change. Japan is aiming to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, a 46% reduction by FY2030, and an even more ambitious goal of 50%. On the 22nd, the Cabinet approved the Strategic Energy Plan, explicitly stating in it that Japan will phase out inefficient coal-fired power plants. The situation surrounding energy is different from one country to another. Surrounded by sea and with scarce resources, Japan does not have a single perfect energy source that meets S+3E. I believe these conditions make it important to use diverse sources of energy in a balanced manner. Based on that, Japan is committed to developing decarbonization technologies such as hydrogen, ammonia, and CCUS, and implementing them in society. We will keep the world thoroughly informed about these efforts, and gain its understanding.
G7 Trade Ministers' Meeting
Q: I would like to ask two questions regarding business and human rights. The G7 Trade Ministers' Meeting was held in London on the 22nd, and I saw a report that you also attended by phone.
It was also reported that one of the main topics was forced labor, that there was a veiled reference to forced labor in China's Uygur Autonomous Region, and that the ministers expressed concerns about it. According to some reports, you mentioned that the Japanese government was also going to hold discussions on policy measures across ministries and agencies concerned to address the issue and that METI will create a new team under the Minister's Secretariat. What policy measures is the government specifically going to discuss? That is my first question.
The G7 joint statement also mentioned that the ministers share the concern regarding the use of all forms of forced labor. It stated that they call on businesses in all countries to work together to eradicate forced labor. The UN has also issued a recommendation to Japan regarding the issue of the Technical Intern Training Program, and the US Department of State has expressed concerns about the program, alleging that it could be a form of human trafficking.
Are you going to address those issues facing Japan in relation to the joint statement, and if yes, how? That is my second question.
A: First of all, I attended the G7 meeting the other day online, not by phone. This was the first time the G7 meeting had compiled a special joint statement focusing on forced labor. Although the press has written about it with allusions to Uygur and China, let me tell you that the ministers did not adopt it with any specific country in mind.
There were calls for an organization to be formed within the ministry to address the problem. We will create a cross-sectional team in due course that can address each issue that requires action. By doing so, we hope to communicate the government's policy both at home and abroad.
In addition, regarding the Technical Intern Training Program, I am aware that there have been problems, including violations of labor-related laws and regulations and technical interns going missing. METI hopes to contribute to appropriate implementation of the program by working together with the relevant ministries and agencies, including the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and the Ministry of Justice, under whose jurisdictions the program falls.
There was no mention of Japan's technical interns during the meeting.