Japan creating $73 billion stimulus package

/ Source: The Associated Press

Japan is drawing up an economic stimulus package worth $73 billion, or eight trillion yen, to help businesses and consumers cope with soaring fuel and commodity prices, news reports said Saturday.

News of the package came on the heels of a government announcement this month that the world's second-largest economy shrank for the first time in a year in the second quarter due to faltering exports and sluggish consumer demand.

The package will include measures to help agricultural and fishing businesses hit hard by soaring fuel costs, the Kyodo News agency and the Yomiuri newspaper reported, citing unnamed government sources. More than 3,000 Japanese fishermen held a one-day strike in July to demand the government act to protect their businesses from skyrocketing oil prices.

The package will also aim to slash expressway tolls, expand medical services for the elderly and support small- and mid-sized firms struggling because of rising commodity prices, the reports said.

The government will finalize the package by the end of August, they said.

Officials of the Prime Minister's Office could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Kyodo reported that Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda hoped the package would help boost his sluggish public support, which remains stuck around 20 percent. A recent Cabinet reshuffle barely boosted his popularity.

The government is to compile a supplementary budget for the current fiscal year to March 2009 to partly finance the package, Kyodo said.

The latest economic package is far smaller than a package worth $136 billion, or 14.8 trillion yen, announced by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2002, Yomiuri said.