Canadian firms keen to engage with postdisaster Japan

by Maya Kaneko

Kyodo

Despite Japan’s battered global image following the March 11 disasters and nuclear crisis, many Canadian businesses are displaying interest in the world’s third-largest economy.

In July, more than 400 people representing about 250 companies took part in a series of business seminars held in five Canadian cities to learn about opportunities to invest and market their products and services in Japan.

The sessions, organized by the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, didn’t only cover short-term reconstruction of the devastated Tohoku region, but also long-term investment strategies, according to the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo.

Canadian Ambassador to Japan Jonathan Fried said in a recent interview that a lack of information, or even media misinformation, overseas concerning the natural and nuclear disasters has discouraged firms looking to do business in Japan.

The seminars were held in Montreal and Toronto, as well as Vancouver, British Columbia, Calgary, Alberta, and Halifax, Nova Scotia “to overcome an attitude of ‘not now’ and to say ‘now is fine,’ ” Fried said.

Paul Thoppil, commercial minister at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, said he explained to seminar participants that Japan is “back to normal and open for business,” and that “fears of radiation and concerns over food are unfounded.”

He said that coming from him, the remarks carried more weight and credibility than if they had been delivered by Japanese officials.

Fried also said that having someone from Tokyo speak about the real situation in Japan “gave a certain validation” to the message, which is: “Don’t be afraid to re-engage now.”

Thoppil said the seminars were attended by representatives from a wide range of industrial sectors, including manufacturing, agriculture, fisheries, forestry, energy, high technology and defense, and involved small and medium-size companies, as well as large firms.

“What we found as a welcome surprise was that there is a lot of interest by Canadian businesses in Japan, regardless of March 11,” Thoppil said.

“So we found a number of businesses that were never engaged in Japan before had come to the seminars.”

After the events, the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service received a number of followup inquiries and the Canadian government is providing the firms with further information and assistance concerning business opportunities, according to Thoppil and Fried.

“Japan remains among the most innovative economies in the world. Its private sector remains largely profitable,” Fried said, dismissing the nation’s aging population and heavy debts as challenges “common to developed markets.”

“Japan is very much an integrated part of the East Asian economy, so the prospects for continued growth and enhanced profitability in the regional context remain real. We would not consider Japan as being on a path of inevitable decline,” he added.

“By fostering connections between corporate Canada and corporate Japan, we also benefit by attracting Japanese (business) interest in Canada,” the ambassador said.

Thoppil added the seminars were intended to “get past the negative impression” of Japan and to “talk more about the country’s strengths,” such as its abundant foreign exchange reserves and household assets that exceed its sovereign debts.

Fried emphasized that the seminars were not solely driven by business interests and were also meant to enable the Canadian private sector’s knowledge and expertise to contribute to postdisaster recovery efforts.

“This was not out of a sense of selfishness or greed. This was not to say Canada should earn reconstruction contracts,” he said.

“So whether this month, this year or the next five years, it’s not too early to engage,” the ambassador said.