Encouraged by the successful alliance between Nissan Motor Co. and French automaker Renault SA, Japan will try to attract more foreign firms into the country as part of efforts to boost the economy.
Foreign firms and individuals hoping to strike it rich by investing in the world’s second-largest economy will soon be hearing good news from Tokyo.
Japan is planning to launch a new program to attract more foreign investment this year in a move that experts say will make it significantly easier for foreign companies to set up businesses in Japan.
The core part of the program is the launch as early as April of an institution tentatively called the Investment Japan: One-Stop Service Center.
The center plans to provide foreign concerns with business-related services and those linked to daily living, such as housing, visas, health care, language training and children’s education.
It will be the first time Japan has set up a system to offer support services for daily living to foreign companies, said Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry officials.
The center, to be launched in Tokyo and run by the government-affiliated Japan External Trade Organization, plans to work closely with local governments and regional business bodies to allow investors to receive these services even outside Tokyo.
“The new program represents Japan’s serious effort to become one of the major investment destinations in the world,” said Jean Barthelemy, president of Jean Barthelemy Consultancy K.K. in Tokyo.
According to the International Monetary Fund, the ratio of foreign direct investment to gross domestic product stood at a paltry 1.1 percent in Japan in 2000, far lower than the 32.4 percent in Britain, 27.7 percent in the United States and 22.4 percent in Germany.
Barthelemy, formerly the Asia representative of the French foreign investment promotion agency DATAR, said a rise in foreign investment will bring substantial improvement to Japan’s economy, citing a recent comment by Nissan Motor President Carlos Ghosn.
Ghosn told the Investment Japan Forum, a private-sector forum to spur foreign investment in Japan, on Dec. 16 that if the ratio of FDI in Japan rises to 20 percent of GDP, it will bring about “economic effects worth 100 trillion yen and create 2 million jobs.”
Behind the new initiative, JETRO officials said, are jitters over the rise of China as the world’s largest potential market and powerful support organizations for foreign investment in Asian economies, such as South Korea’s Korea Investment Service Center.
Underlining these concerns, a top diplomat of a European Union member state said Europeans, like Americans, would now prefer investing in Shanghai over Tokyo, given China’s huge economic potential and Japan’s decade-long recession.
The EU is Japan’s largest investment partner in terms of value, followed by the U.S.
But industry experts said the new investment program will shift foreign investors’ attention back to Japan as it will be of a great help to small and midsize companies that do not have business bases in Japan.
The program is also expected to help investors sharply reduce time-consuming procedures for daily living, especially for foreign employees who are accompanied by their families.
“Some still see China as a difficult place for investment for a number of reasons, such as weak protection of intellectual property copyrights, a lack of transparency in tax systems and limited freedom in choosing employees,” Barthelemy said. “Japan should have more confidence in its economic potential given its highly skilled workforce, technological prowess and rich infrastructure.”
JETRO wants to increase the number of investments from abroad through the semigovernmental body to 100 per year from the current 30, said Keizo Tsuchiya, director of JETRO’s Investment Promotion Department.
JETRO also hopes it will help expand the overall number of foreign investments into Japan, which currently stands at roughly 600 per year, he said.
A key to achieving these targets, said Barthelemy, is to build a good interface between the one-stop center and local bodies, such as METI’s regional offices, JETRO’s local offices and local chambers of commerce, and between the center and Japan’s foreign diplomatic establishments and JETRO’s overseas networks.
“And listen carefully to what kind of support foreign investors really need before and after entering Japan,” he said.
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