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Aging Japanese Society Could Push Public Debt to All-Time High

The rising costs of Japan's rapidly aging population will require more government funds next year, pushing public debt to a record high.

The Japanese Cabinet approved a $760 billion draft budget for 2004, a small expansion from the current year.

Much of the increase is a four percent rise in social security costs, as the number of elderly people grows. The government will borrow more to cover its costs, and take in less money from taxes, which will boost the public debt.

Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki said at a news conference that medical costs for the elderly are rising faster than the overall Japanese economy. He says spending on pensions and healthcare cannot be reduced, but that the government will slash spending in other areas.

Spending on defense, foreign aid and public works projects will be cut for 2004.

In other economic news, Japan's trade surplus continues to expand. It grew for the fifth straight month in November, because a drop in imports outpaced a decline in exports.

The surplus, the measure of all goods exported minus those imported, grew 11 percent from the same month a year earlier to $9.3 billion.

Toyota, Japan's largest car maker, aims to revive the sluggish domestic market for its sedans, and grab market share from European competitors.

It has redesigned and re-launched its flagship luxury Crown sedan with new safety features and other enhancements.

Toyota President Fujio Cho is optimistic about the new design's prospects. He says improved driving performance and a dynamic design will attract young buyers. He says Toyota aims to double sales of previous Crown models.