Japan plans to give small exporters helping hand ahead of TPP

JIJI

The government is preparing to strengthen efforts to help small exporters before the giant Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact takes effect.

Specifically, it is understood that it plans to sell regional products at Japanese convenience stores based in Southeast Asia on a trial basis.

Under the project, the government hopes to help small companies shore up operations via exports to help them deal with the shrinking domestic market.

As a first step, the government will hold an event in Vietnam called Japan Fair this autumn in cooperation with the Japan External Trade Organization and other entities.

During this time, products from small Japanese companies will be tested at up to 200 convenience stores.

“Urban areas in Vietnam are affluent, and middle-income earners will increase further,” said an official at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

After the TPP takes effect, business opportunities are expected to increase because the pact will make it easier for Japanese convenience stores to open outlets in fellow TPP nations Vietnam and Malaysia.

Among other products, the government is considering promoting kuki wakame, a seaweed-based snack becoming popular in Singapore, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries.

Sokan Co., a food manufacturer in Yaita, Tochigi Prefecture, produces the snack using seaweed grown mostly in the Sanriku area on the coast of Iwate Prefecture.

Sokan saw sales of the snack in Asia surge to ¥10 million in 2015, from some ¥3 million the previous year.

“Kuki wakame is becoming popular among young women as a healthy snack,” Sokan President Kenichi Itayama said. The company is aiming to boost kuki wakame sales in Asia to ¥100 million this year.

Still, overseas-generated revenue for small firms remains low, accounting for less than 10 percent of total sales.

To tap into major distributors, they need to set up production facilities large enough to ensure stable product supplies.

But an official of a rice-based snack maker was cautious, saying, “We cannot take the risk of improving our facilities when it is uncertain whether we can be successful in overseas markets.”