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2009年5月25日 (月)


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 23(IHT/Asahi: May 25,2009)
EDITORIAL: Eco-points program

As part of the Aso administration's economic stimulus package, the government has introduced a program in which buyers of energy-saving household electronic appliances are given "eco-points" that can be exchanged for gift certificates or other goods.
Under the plan, the government will give the consumer eco-points equal to 5 to 10 percent of the purchase price. On May 16 and 17--the first weekend after the program started--many electronic products shops across the country were crowded with consumers.

However, the supplementary budget bill, which earmarks 295 billion yen for the eco-points program, is still being debated in the Diet. Therefore, the eco-points will become exchangeable in August.

Details of the program, including the creation of a private-sector secretariat to run the program and the list of items to be exchanged for the eco-points, are all still up in the air. The government rushed to start the program for fear of potential buyers postponing their purchases of new items. This is truly a hashed-up program.

For starters, why are only air-conditioners, refrigerators and digital terrestrial TV sets eligible for the eco-points?

According to the government's explanation, these three appliances are the biggest electricity guzzlers in the household, responsible for half of all household carbon dioxide emissions. The government says if the system encourages the public to buy more energy-efficient appliances, then it will help cope with global warming.

In addition, in order to urge the public to switch their TV sets to digital ones before the Japanese terrestrial broadcast system shifts completely to digital broadcasts in July 2011, an extra 5 percent of the price's worth of eco-points is added to TV sets only.

The government says the eco-points program is "one that will kill three birds with one stone," addressing the economy, the environment and the shift to digital broadcasts.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry apparently expects this program to increase demand for home electronic appliances. Until March next year, when the eco-points program ends, the ministry expects sales of 30 million TV sets, air conditioners and refrigerators, 1.5 times the sales numbers before the global financial crisis.

Although increased demand is a good thing, things are not that simple.

For example, a government policy to support a designated industrial sector is a problem in terms of fairness to other sectors.

Even if there is an increase in sales, it could be merely pushing forward the demand that would have eventually emerged anyway. This means there is a risk that once the eco-points program is over, then sales will plummet.

Eligible products must satisfy a certain energy-efficiency standard; so far, almost all of them are Japanese products. Even if this was not the government's intention, other nations could see the program as protectionism.

While the program may be beneficial for consumers, the 295 billion yen necessary for this system is, in the end, a burden of 2,500 yen for each individual citizen. In addition, more government money will be necessary for administrative procedures to exchange the items for points and print huge numbers of catalogs.
This can hardly be called a "wise" way to spend taxpayer money.

If the government argues that the eco-points program is a necessary and extraordinary emergency measure to stimulate consumption and support an industry suffering from rapid sales losses, the least it should do is ensure the program is highly effective in shifting Japan toward an environmentally friendly society.

However, the program seems contrary to that purpose if people are given more eco-points for buying bigger TV sets that use up more electricity.

The government should make further efforts in working out details of the program so that it will produce results worthy of the name "eco-friendly."


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