Four consul generals gave varying takes on the business climate in Osaka during the 100th Osaka International Forum on Sept. 18.

Approximately 75 people attended the conference, which was sponsored by the Japan External Trade Organization and the Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The bimonthly event brings together foreign diplomats and Japanese businesspeople to discuss local and international business issues.

After a presentation on Osaka’s history by Mutsumi Hashimoto, a special adviser to Sumitomo Corporation, each of the attendees gave their views on the Kansai region’s business environment. While Hashimoto said Osaka has taken “concrete steps” to improve its business environment, the four consul generals strongly criticized Osaka businesses, particularly the closed nature of the construction industry.

Kim Say Tech, the Korean consul general, said, “One visible trend over the past 25 years has been the decline of Kansai.” He pointed out that in 1970, the region’s GDP was 19.5 percent, but this has since decreased to 16.5 percent, a decline of nearly 0.1 percent per year. “Kansai has become a branch economy of Kanto,” he said. “Some 80 percent of businesses are centered in Kanto. Only 10 percent are headquartered in Kansai.” All of the panelists agreed that improving the communications infrastructure and eliminating cartels are necessary to improve the region’s economy.

Osaka’s notorious bid-rigging practices in the construction industry are a particularly sore point at the moment, because American firms are being shut out of the bidding process for the Universal Studios project. Such shady business practices could hurt Osaka’s Olympic hopes as well, according to American Consul General Frederic Maerkle.

“The IOC (International Olympic Committee) looks at a lot of things when deciding the host city, and they take some fuzzy areas into consideration,” Maerkle said. “Osaka needs to make sure that internationalization is not just a slogan. It needs to convince the IOC that it is a good place for the international community.”

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