President Sept / Oct 2020

Bilateral trust, trade and opportunity

For 72 years, the mission of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan (BCCJ) has been to promote bilateral trade and invest­­ment between Japan and the UK, contributing to sustain­able economic growth in our two countries.

In line with that, one of the chamber’s goals is the creation of trust and opportu­nities in bilateral Japan–UK business. At a more granular level, the BCCJ believes this can be achieved through the promo­tion of increased digital and techno­lo­gical innova­tion, proliferation of responsible business practices and greater diversity in a more inclusive workplace.

There is growing consensus that these positions have a disproportionately positive impact on sustainable growth, and they are areas in which UK businesses, together with like-minded partners, are making important contributions to best practice. The themes are beacons around which Japanese and UK firms can rally. By exchanging their experi­ences—both good and bad—these firms can stim­ulate trust and, in the process, generate commercial opportunities.

Change at the top

More fundamentally, however, the purpose of the BCCJ is that its members make great connections with people who matter. For a start-up or new market entrant, that might mean access to a peer group network or new customers. For a global multinational, it might be a platform from which to tell their corporate story to business leaders and influencers. Regardless of size, however, all BCCJ members have an interest in Japanese government policy and the process for making that policy (which in turn shapes the business environment).

The announcement, therefore, that Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, Shinzo Abe, will be stepping down has inevitably been the focus of intense scrutiny and speculation about the impact on the Japanese economy and business. At such a time, it is natural to seek trusted insights, and the BCCJ was delighted to deliver on its purpose on 8 September with an event featuring Abe’s biographer, Tobias Harris. As a leading commentator on Japanese politics, Harris is, in this moment of transition, undoubtedly a person who matters.

Trade support

In years to come, historians will forensically dissect and evaluate Abe’s legacy. Domestically, looking back at the three arrows of Abenomics, and attempts at constitutional reform, there will likely be a sense of unfinished business. On the global stage, however, Abe can be credited with placing Japan at the heart of international orga­­ni­sa­tions, championing the rules-based system and brokering a number of important trade agreements. The impressive list includes:

  • EU–Japan Economic Partnership Agreement
  • Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership
  • Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (currently under negotiation with China, India, ASEAN and others)
  • Bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) with Australia and the United States

From the perspective of businesses that are focused on the Tokyo–London axis, though, the inking of one final FTA between Japan and the UK is a marvellous, and most welcome, way to bow out.