President February 2020

Bright future for bilateral business

The meeting this month between British Secretary of State for Foreign and Common­wealth Affairs Dominic Raab and his Japanese counterpart, Toshimitsu Motegi, provided welcome impetus for the early commence­­ment of negotia­tions to conclude a Japan–UK economic partner­ship agreement. However, with media reporting on requests to eliminate specific import restrictions, there is a tendency to view the bilateral economic relation­ship primarily in terms of the direct sale of goods and services from suppliers in one country to customers in the other. But this does not do justice to the breadth of business collabora­tion between Japan and the UK nor the scope to deepen that collabora­tion in the future.

Local options

That is not to suggest there is any lack of variety in business models for the direct sale to customers of goods and services between our two countries. Options include establishing a local branch or subsidiary to market and distribute products. In the case of goods, this may involve the import of finished products or the use of local-contract manufacturing. Other options are to sell with support from a local commission agent or through an e-commerce platform. Alternatively, the transaction of choice may involve the acquisition of an existing local firm. Business models for indirect sales include licensing, franchising, selling to a third-party local distributor and the formation of a joint venture with a local partner.

Daily news feeds provide a rich selection of transactions to illustrate the strength of the Japan–UK axis and the vibrancy of business activity upon which it is based.

2020 tie-ups

Announcements so far this year include the tie-up between Japan’s Toyota Tsusho Corporation and the UK’s AJ Walter Aviation Limited, which specialises in maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) of aircraft fuselages and engines. It is a symbiotic combination facilitating the Japanese firm’s entry into MRO and AJ Walter’s expansion into Asia.

In biotech, UK firm PhoreMost Ltd. has begun collaborating with Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. on several gene therapy projects that use PhoreMost’s technology to identify targets for Otsuka’s therapeutics discovery programmes.

In other technology, SoftBank Group Corp. is expanding its robotics division by creating a UK team to focus on the sale of humanoid and programmable robots. For sales in the other direction, we can soon expect to see the familiar shape of the UK-manufactured London taxi in Japan following the vehicle’s recent Tokyo launch by London EV Company Ltd.

Premium opportunity

In parallel to these recent news stories, there is a long-standing narrative whereby British suppliers are well positioned to capitalise on Japanese consumers’ love of luxury and heritage brands. Increasingly, however, that extends beyond premium-quality manufactured goods to the realm of media and entertainment, as evidenced by the announce­ment of a multi-year deal between Japanese video streamer U-Next Co., Ltd. and the BBC’s commercial arm to provide an expanded volume of quality British programming.

The opportunity to highlight examples of successful Japan–UK collaboration is one of the most satisfying aspects of involvement with the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan (BCCJ). I make no apology, however, for the fact that, by the time this edition of BCCJ ACUMEN goes to print, the above stories will be yesterday’s news, surpassed by fresh examples of partnership success. That, however, is the beauty of a vibrant bilateral business relationship!