The October 2016 Foreign Chambers in Japan Business Confidence Survey showed a marginal improvement in growth expectations for the Japanese economy compared with the previous survey in April. Although modest, the trend is welcome, and consistent with the positive activity we are seeing from foreign chambers of commerce in Japan.
Last month, I was honoured to join our friends from the Australian and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan in welcoming their new executive committee, and was delighted to congratulate the Greek business community on the formation of their own national chamber.
Closer to home, November is traditionally the busiest month of the year for the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan (BCCJ). At the time of writing, final preparations are being made for the British Business Awards (BBA), at which we will celebrate the achievements of firms and individuals that have made an outstanding contribution to UK–Japan business. This will be followed by an opportunity for BCCJ members to bid farewell to departing British Ambassador to Japan Tim Hitchens CMG LVO. Over lunch, he will be sharing reflections on the momentous events of his most recent tenure in Japan.
The months following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union have been particularly eventful, and the challenges ahead are well documented. The situation remains fluid, and the way in which the UK engages with Europe will inevitably change. But the fundamental strength of Britain’s institutions, together with its openness to business and investment, shall endure undiminished.
Britain continues to be part of Europe, and relationships in the fields of trade, security and the environment will remain critically important. In dealing with the result of the referendum though, Britain has an unprecedented opportunity to reshape the way it does business, and during this time of change the maintenance of strong relationships with Japanese stakeholders will be particularly important. In this respect, the recent commitment of a Japanese carmaker to increase its investment in the UK is a welcome endorsement of the quality of Britain’s workforce and supply chains.
The strongest relationships, however, require reciprocation, and to this end there is much room for the UK to boost its export performance. The ability to apply world-class research and development capabilities to solve real world problems presents the UK’s life science, healthcare and fintech sectors with significant opportunities in Japan.
Beyond technology and innovation, the cachet of British brands born of history, culture and tradition will provide continued opportunities for exporters of a wide range of products, including luxury goods, food and drink.
According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Japanese taste for British jam, biscuits and tea alone could boost exports by £185mn over five years—a modest, but exceptionally appetising, contribution to the trade balance. The vast majority of British food and drink firms, however, export nothing. Thus I hope you will agree that the scope for improvement, in this and many other sectors, is tremendous. And if you were among the BBA guests who toasted the future prospects for British business in Japan, I trust you did so in the firm belief that the glass is distinctly “half full”.