Japanese Economic Data Improves Slightly

The Japanese government's month-to-month assessment of the economy has seen its first upward movement in nearly a year.

The June report says the economy has improved compared with last month, the first such monthly upgrade since last July. The Cabinet Office also reports that in the first quarter of the year, Japan's economy expanded 1.2 percent in real terms over the previous three-month period.

The adjustment means Japan now expects its gross domestic product for the year to expand by just under five percent - slightly below what had been predicted. The Cabinet Office had earlier forecast GDP growth at about 5.3 percent. But the revised figure still represents the highest level in more than eight years.

Still, officials warn the economy is far from robust.

Trading company Mitsui is apologizing after the arrest of three former employees. The three are accused of making up test data to obtain official approval for a diesel particulate filter. The Tokyo metropolitan government approved the filter for use in trucks to comply with new clean-air standards. More than 20,000 of the filters were sold.

Reflecting public outrage over the scam, the Asahi newspaper calls the case "a vicious crime that exploited environmental administration measures." It terms Mitsui's apology "superficial."

Tokyo Metropolitan Governor Shintaro Ishihara says the company's pursuit of profits betrayed people hoping to breathe cleaner air. But Mikio Sasaki, the chairman of the Japan Foreign Trade Council, a powerful group of major trading companies, praises Mitsui's response to the criminal investigation. Mr. Sasaki said although it is regrettable one of the council's member companies is involved, its response was in line with new trading company standards of conduct. He says Mitsui has been transparent, is cooperating with investigators and taking steps to make sure nothing like this happens again.

Aerospace companies from Japan and France will conduct joint research on a more fuel-efficient supersonic jetliner than the now grounded Concorde.

Japanese officials say the program will combine Japanese technology with French supersonic experience.

There are no commercial supersonic aircraft in the skies these days, following the permanent grounding in 2003 of the Concorde, which was developed in the late 1960s by the French and British.

The French began looking at Japan as a new partner after a Japanese consortium two years ago developed an engine capable of powering flights at 5.5 times the speed of sound.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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