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October 2008

[Originally posted, with full hyperlinks, at http://eastasiaforum.org/author/lukenottage/]

The Kyoto Shimbun reported last Wednesday the first de facto victory by a consumer representative group in injunction proceedings regarding unfair contract terms. The same page mentioned the Education Ministry’s response to the recent death of a sixth-year elementary student, who choked on some bread provided in school lunches – basically, ‘chew well’! By contrast, Japan’s largest manufacturer of konnyaku (konjac) jelly snacks, MannanLife, halted all production after a one-year-old boy choked to death on 29 July.

But that situation is rather different. It also more directly highlights when and how a new Consumer Agency (shohisha-cho) might emerge in Japan. Ex-PM Fukuda’s Cabinet approved a Bill, but it then resigned without putting it through. It is unclear when and how PM Aso will submit a new Bill, and what line the opposition DPJ will now take, especially given the uncertainty about a possible early general election.

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[Originally posted, with full hyperlinks, at http://eastasiaforum.org/author/lukenottage/]

For weeks I have been tracking this latest evolving food safety scandal, but reports and reactions vary markedly across the region. Media coverage is likely to remain disparate. But the saga should provide lessons for developing bilateral and regional infrastructure to “trade up” to a more harmonized regime, better securing consumer product safety in our FTA era.

At a news conference this Wednesday the Chinese Health Ministry announced melamine limits for dairy products, but declined to provide updated statistics on those so far harmed by tainted products. In September the figures given were 53000 children sickened, 13000 hospitalised, and at least three dead from kidney stones due to drinking products made from milk that suppliers or intermediaries had bolstered with this chemical to hide the fact it had been watered down. Yet the government demands notification if Chinese lawyers decide to represent victims.

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[Originally posted, with full hyperlinks, at http://eastasiaforum.org/author/lukenottage/]

In Japanese banking, the big boys are back, as I explained last week: The Economist now confirms it. Indeed, the latter suggests that “if Japanese banks have any unique skill, it may well be in coping with crisis”. Not an obvious point, as evidenced by the collective dithering after Japan’s financial markets collapsed in the early 1990s or the almost completely unexpected 1995 Kobe earthquake. But I suppose the Japanese can be very good at responding systematically, once they establish the broad parameters of the problem.

Anyway, Mitsubishi UFJ has now proceeded to take 21% of Morgan Stanley, and is now considering further integrating its securities subsidiary (involved in US$18.3b of M&A advisory work involving Japanese companies in 2007) with Morgan’s Japanese arm (which did $17.9b). This would challenge Nomura, which did $34.2b (“Aiming to Rival Nomura”, Asahi Shimbun, 4-5 October, p 25); but the latter has also snapped up Lehman’s operations in Asia (mostly Tokyo), hoping to retain many staff to grow its own business.

And on Friday, the US government finally agreed on a public bailout plan for up to $700b, which I reviewed critically earlier in the week. Along with $85b for AIG and $29b for Bear Stearns, this amounts already to 5.8% of GDP, “well above the 3.7% of the savings-and-loan bail-out in the late 1980s and early 1990s” and significantly less than the 24% of GDP committed by Japan after 1997.

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[Originally posted, with full hyperlinks, at http://eastasiaforum.org/author/lukenottage/]

Many commentators are belatedly pointing out parallels between the financial markets boom and bust cycle in Japan over the 1980s and 1990s, and that now afflicting the US. However, especially when it comes to solutions for the US and hence the world economy, things are not quite as simple as envisaged by Japan’s then financial services minister, Yoshimi Watanabe, who proclaimed in March: “The US should follow Japan’s example and tackle its sub-prime loan problem using public money. The situation is exactly like what Japan saw 10 years ago”.

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Japanese Law in Asia-Pacific Socio-Economic Context
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