Until the international crisis of 2009, Japan was the second largest economy in the world in terms of GDP. Although in 2010 it was overtaken by China, still it remains one of the first countries in the world in terms of GDP per capita. To give an estimate of its influence in international economic organizations, suffice it to say that its share in the International Monetary Fund is only smaller than that of the United States. However, the global crisis has hit the economy hard, causing GDP to plummetby 5.5% in 2009 and causing an increase in unemployment, which reached a peak of 5.6% in the summer of 2009 (a figure lower, however, than that of almost all other advanced capitalist countries). The crisis, combined with Japan’s low structural birth rate and severe restrictions on foreign immigration, hinders the expansion of the workforce necessary for economic recovery. The structures of the workforce are also experiencing a moment of transition, marked by a greater diffusion of part-time jobs and flexibility. Another burden on the future of the Japanese economy is the level of public debt: it is the highest in the world, and exceeds 245% of GDP.This has negative consequences on fiscal policies, since a large part of the state budget is destined to pay the accumulated liabilities, while the central bank cannot implement expansive monetary policies for the level of interest rates. The latter are close to zero to avert another great fear of Japan: deflation. After 2009, the economy did not resume growing consistently: + 4.7% in 2010 was contradicted by -0.4% in 2011 and 1.7% in 2012. In 2013 there was an increase in employment and the industrial sector, but in 2014 GDP fell again by 0.1%. The effects of the much publicized Abenomics they only began to be seen in 2015 when the economy registered a slight recovery. In the long term, the bet won by Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics will create new opportunities to channel investments and give confidence to consumption. In any case, the problem of an aging population weighs on the future of the country.
The depreciation of the yen, which took place throughout 2015, looks set to continue, albeit more slowly. The negative effects have been numerous, starting with the mandatory imports for Japan. But there have been positive ones, such as the incentive given to exports. Trade suffered from the 2011 tsunami: it had already been damaged by the depression of 2009 and only recently seems to be recovering, with an acceleration in 2014-15. In 2015, the main export partners were the USA (19%); China (18%) and South Korea (7%). As far as imports are concerned, Japan depends on foreign countries for critical sectors, such as energy. The flow from China is also growing: 22% of Beijing marks a difference with Washington’s second place (9%) and Canberra’s third (5%). Indeed, the trend that over the last 25 years has ensured a trade balance positive reversed until Japan became a deficit country. The growing importance of the People’s Republic of China dates back to 2008 and, given that the current administration has very tough positions on the disputed territories, the economic and financial factor could be of some importance in bilateral relations. However, the impact of foreign trade on GDP was 28.3% in 2013 and, even before the crisis, it did not exceed 31.8% (2008).
Energy and environment
According to Petsinclude, the central fact of Japan’s energy policy is its strong dependence on imports: only 11% of energy needs are met by internal resources. If we add to this that Japan is the third largest consumer of oil in the world (after China and the United States), the third net importer of crude oil and the first absolute importer of liquefied gas and coal, the need to adopt strategies to reduce the addiction and the vulnerability that comes with it. Over the past few decades, the Japanese government has tried to reduce oil consumption and has achieved its goal, as the percentage of crude oil in the country’s energy mix has risen from 70% in the 1970s to the current 43.6 %. In addition, the country maintains good stock of reserves, quantifiable in 590 million barrels of oil, or, given the level of average consumption, sufficient to satisfy demand for about four and a half months. In addition, Japanese energy companies invest heavily abroad, especially in the Middle East and in the states of Southeast Asia, on the basis of a high level of engineering know-how and thanks to the primacy held by Japan as the first exporter. to the world of equipment for the energy industry. Finally, Japan has also invested in the construction of a substantial fleet of nuclear power plants in recent decades.
Following the earthquake that struck the country on 11 March 2011 and the subsequent damage to the Fukushima power plant, Japan lost its nuclear capacity until May 2012. Since then, only two reactors have resumed operation. To compensate, Japanese operators made massive use of imported natural gas. Before the disaster, nuclear power represented 26% of the sources of electricity production. In 2013, also thanks to the depreciation of the yen, the ten largest utilities in the country suffered net losses of around 30 billion dollars. From an environmental point of view, Japan is famous for having hosted in 1997 the works that led to the Kyoto Protocol on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Therethe country’s performance relative to pollution assumes opposite connotations depending on whether we look at total pollution or per capita: under the first aspect, Japan is the sixth country in the world for CO 2 emissions, with more than one billion tons each year; below the second it stands at slightly lower standards than those of countries such as Norway and Denmark, which are known to be particularly attentive to the environment.