Following the first meeting of the new British Chamber of Commerce in Japan (BCCJ) Executive Committee (Excom), I am delighted to report that Alison Beale has been unanimously endorsed as vice-president of the chamber. Beale is the director of the University of Oxford Japan Office, and in previous years has led the BCCJ’s events task force. I know that members will join me in congratulating her on this appointment, and I look forward to working closely with her and our fellow Excom members in the year ahead.
In common with British chambers of commerce worldwide and their respective host countries, the overall goal of the BCCJ is to support the bilateral UK–Japan business relationship, including the encouragement of trade and investment.
As consumer spending in the UK has softened in recent months, a concerted effort to boost exports will necessarily be an important part of the country’s programme to secure continued economic growth. The vibrancy and fitness of the UK’s production capability in terms of goods and services must therefore be secured as a necessary condition for the nurturing and development of new and existing exporters.
Notwithstanding recent surprises in the outcome of some election results around the world, there is at the time of writing an unexpected level of uncertainty about the complexion of the UK government that will be formed after this month’s general election.
However, for the sake of the UK’s aspiration to have a world-class export capability, it is important that the government, whomever it may comprise, continues to protect and burnish the country’s pro-business credentials. Openness and transparency must be combined with a competitive regulatory and tax system—a system that is stable, simple and fair, and which creates an environment that rewards ambition, creativity and ingenuity.
In terms of a specific destination for goods and services, UK exporters to Japan can enjoy an implicit association with “Brand Britain”. Although this is not explicitly defined, it is, for many Japanese, intuitively synonymous with tradition, quality and style. For those that are willing to customise their business model for Japan’s discerning consumers, the sheer size of the market (the economy of Tokyo alone is comparable in size to that of Mexico or South Korea) and the loyalty of the customers make this a potentially rewarding destination for UK exporters.
The same economic and regulatory attributes that help the UK support its exporters are also among the features that make the country a magnet for foreign investment, of which Japan is a major provider. This investment has been a major source of jobs and capital, and has frequently led to an infusion of technology, innovation and management discipline.
The bilateral benefits of increased UK–Japan trade and investment are incontrovertible, and support from UK policy makers is essential to ensure that conditions remain in place for this to thrive. I therefore urge them to be mindful of the premium value of Brand Britain to Japanese consumers and investors alike, and to ensure that the current generation of exporters are empowered to add to its legacy.