Masami Ando, Managing Director — JETRO Dubai & MENA
JETRO Dubai plays an integral role in building bilateral ties, opening investment corridors between both countries and promoting opportunities between Japan and the UAE
What role does JETRO play in raising the profile of Japanese organisations/businesses in the UAE?
JETRO Dubai was established in 1981, a decade after diplomatic ties were officially established between the UAE and Japan. Over the last 40 years, JETRO, as a government related organisation, has played a pivotal role in building and strengthening the economic relationship between Japan, the UAE and the rest of the MENA. JETRO Dubai has taken consistent steps to promote the state-of-the-art technology of Japanese startups, medical equipment, foodstuff and ingredients, handicrafts, beauty and fashion products. The most integral function of JETRO Dubai is to provide a platform to Japanese products and services in the Middle East, by facilitating their presence in major trade and expo events – many of which are hosted by the UAE.
For the last few years, JETRO Dubai has been a proud organiser of Japan Pavilion for GITEX Future Stars, Gulf Food and Arab Health. This year, over 20 Japanese startups showcased at GITEX Future Stars, from a wide range of industry such as AI, space tech, agritech, automobile and IoT among others. Over 38 companies from Japan participated in the Japan Pavilion at the GULFOOD 2021 in Dubai. At Arab Health 2021, hosted in Dubai virtually, JETRO facilitated 22 companies from the healthcare and medical equipment industry to display their multiple range of products.
The setting up of an SME platform in the UAE for the promotion of Japanese SMEs in the UAE prior to the emergence of Covid-19 was instrumental in easing the processes of business setups in the country by way of providing regulatory advices and logistical support to intending Japanese investors.
How do you view the UAE-Japan bilateral business/trade ties?
The UAE has been an important hub for Japanese firms in terms of serving key markets in the Middle East region. Many Japanese companies have established their presence in the region by expanding trade ties, not only with the UAE, but also with many other countries in the Middle East and the North Africa region. More than 340 Japanese companies have their major bases in the UAE, and have promoted economic cooperation in a wide range of areas.
The major component of Japan’s bilateral trade with the UAE are mineral fuels, transportation vehicles, general machinery, electric and electronic equipment, metals and foodstuff. Though the UAE is the second largest exporter of crude oils to Japan, the relationship between Japan and the UAE is not limited to the energy sector only. Apart from the energy sector, the UAE and Japan have cooperated in a wide range of fields, including medical care, culture and sports, science and technology, and space exploration. The UAE and Japan have made remarkable development in many areas during the recent years, and one of the most symbolic event being the launch of UAE’s Hope Probe from Japan in July, 2020.
In 2020, Japan formulated its Green Growth Strategy, which includes supporting policy measures to promote social deployment in 14 promising industries, including hydrogen, automobiles and storage batteries, and carbon recycling. The UAE’s Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure and the Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry have signed a Memorandum of Cooperation to explore opportunities in the field of hydrogen development. The signing of the MoC is expected to accelerate bilateral cooperation in the field of hydrogen and support the ambition to accelerate the energy transition towards low-carbon. Also, the year 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the UAE and Japan establishing diplomatic relations. We hope that the bilateral trade relations will fortify and diversify in the coming years. To mark the 50th anniversary, there will be special events and celebrations next year.
What are some of the post-pandemic transitions JETRO has observed in the way of doing business vis-à-vis pre-pandemic?
We believe that the advent of the e-commerce system way ahead of the emergence of Covid-19, was a precursor to the much larger virtual business system that became the new norm during and after the pandemic. However, once the pandemic is over, we believe that the world may go back to the traditional ways of doing business, to a certain extent. However, the virtual business system may dominate in the emerging business system, post-pandemic. In the case of JETRO, our switching to the utilisation of online tools was quite quick as we held online business meeting events during the pandemic. JETRO held many online business matching and seminars in various sectors such as health care, beauty, food and fashion to discuss possible business collaborations. In addition, JETRO promoted Japanese products and services by participating in hybrid events at major tradeshows in this region.
Global businesses were impacted during the pandemic last year. How has JETRO ensured a smooth transition of the Japanese organisations through digital disruption?
As the Covid-19 pandemic made it difficult to conduct in-person meetings, virtual business meetings became a norm. Online sessions serve as an effective communication tool, as they don’t require a special venue and can easily be conducted at any time on short notice. We witnessed active participations on conference calls, as the distance was no longer a big concern. JETRO adapted swiftly to the Covid-19 inspired changes in the business dynamics in the last two years and accordingly supported Japanese companies in facing the emerging new challenges, and in maintaining the business outreach, both physically as well as virtually. While in-person meetings and conventions are making a comeback, almost all of 2020 and first half of 2021 was dominated by virtual meetings and conferences in the interest of public safety. As a testimony to JETRO’s continuous efforts to extend its support to the Japanese business community amidst the pandemic, a series of business meetings — totaling 12 in 2020, and seven so far in 2021, were successfully conducted through online platforms benefiting business operations from Japan and buyers in the UAE.
What kind of support does JETRO offer to Japanese companies looking to invest in the UAE, and vice-versa to UAE organisations?
JETRO has strong relationship with government entities in the UAE and the GCC countries, and frequently exchanges vital information that is crucial for the business communities in both countries. JETRO, through its global network of more than 120 offices, including 49 regional offices in Japan and over 74 overseas offices in and around 54 countries, creates a closely-knit network that provides a comprehensive support base for Japanese businesses.
The ‘Basic policy on economic and fiscal management and reform 2020’ released by the Japanese government in July 2020, states that Japan will work to further expand foreign direct investments in the country in order to further promote the vitality of overseas economies to local communities. For foreign and foreign-affiliated companies, including startups wishing to set-up their base in the country, businesses can avail information on Japan’s investment environment, markets, industries, licensing and more business incubation service such as ‘Invest Japan Business Support Centers’ (IBSCs).
Expo 2020 Dubai has been a huge success in the past two months (since the report is out in December 2021). What is the main agenda of Japan to participate in the Expo?
The Expo 2020 Dubai Japan Pavilion, with the theme ‘Where Ideas Meet,’ will show visitors how diverse encounters create new ideas and lead us toward a better future. Our aims for Expo 2020 Dubai are to strengthen Japan’s voice in the global community, develop and promote Japanese industry, increase inbound tourism, and empower the next generation with greater opportunities to realise their full potential.
This Expo 2020 Dubai is also very vital to Japanese companies and the government of Japan since it offers a vital opportunity to strengthen trade relations between the two countries and provides a platform for Japanese businesses to highlight their technological innovation and skills, as well as expand their market reach beyond Dubai. We hope that the Japan Pavilion will be an important link to connect the legacy of Expo 2020 Dubai to Expo 2025, Osaka-Kansai.
Can you give a preview of Expo 2025 in Osaka?
The next World Expo 2025 will be held in Osaka, Kansai, Japan in 2025, from April 13 to October 13, 2025 at the Yumeshima Island and is projected to welcome 28.2 million visitors. The theme of this exposition is ‘Designing Future Society for Our Lives’ with subthemes of ‘Saving Lives,’ ‘Empowering Lives,’ and ‘Connecting Lives.’ This will be the second time Osaka will host a World Expo, 55 years after previously hosting in 1970, and 20 years after the last Japanese World Expo hosted in Aichi in 2005.The official goals of Expo 2025 are to contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and achievement of Japan’s national strategy Society 5.0.
Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai, Japan, will provide the world with an opportunity to come together in one ‘place’ at this time to explore the theme of ‘life’.