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10 May 2016 | By Guy Dru Drury Insight

A welcoming Japan

Insight: Guy Dru Drury, chief representative, CBI China

The recent B7 summit provided an opportunity to recognise the strong business relationship between the UK and Japan

“It is not politics that creates global economic growth, it is you in the business community who do that,” said Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe at the opening of the recent B7 summit in Tokyo. “The role of governments is to eliminate the various barriers that are faced by businesses eager to achieve such growth.” 

Together with CBI president Paul Drechsler, I was on hand to hear Abe’s heartfelt welcome to business leaders from across the G7.

We also used the opportunity to meet CBI members Mitsubishi and Fujitsu. Both are major inward investors and are part of the more than 1,300 Japanese companies that employ more than 140,000 people in the UK. Indeed the UK is the top destination in Europe for Japanese investment, with Nikkei’s £844m purchase of the Financial Times from Pearson just one of the deals that totalled £6.6bn in 2015.

A strong tie

The UK-Japan relationship dates back more than 400 years and has around 450 British companies operating in-country. UK exports to Japan are worth £9.6bn a year, and recognisable high street names popular in Japan include Lush, Ted Baker, Burberry, and Fortnum & Mason as well as specialist companies such as BrewDog.

The pedigree of the relationship is remarkable. British Airways has been flying to Japan for more than 65 years and Rolls-Royce’s relationship spans more than 100 years supplying marine, civil and defence aerospace and energy companies from its Tokyo and Kobe offices.

With an open economy, strong intellectual property (IP) protection, high levels of disposable income amongst a growing middle class and hunger for new trends and technologies, Japan offers many opportunities to UK businesses seeking to invest overseas.

The UK’s largest visible exports to Japan are machinery, power generation equipment, vehicles, medical and pharmaceutical products and account for £2.5bn. Financial service exports were valued at £2.6bn in 2013.

Growing opportunity

There are also growth areas for UK export expertise, namely in low carbon technologies and services. Additionally companies with heritage, authenticity and originality are of particular interest to Japan’s high spending consumers, and specific opportunities exist for UK companies in fashion, design, food and drink – especially those holding Royal Warrants, much sought after by the Japanese.

As the world’s fastest ageing society there are opportunities to provide services and products to a population that will have 40 per cent of the population over 65 by 2055. UK healthcare, pharmaceuticals and medical devices are forecast to benefit from this demographic shift over the next few years.

And with the 2019 Rugby World Cup to be hosted in Japan, a year before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, there are ample opportunities for UK companies specialising in safety and security, cyber-services, communications, design and training.

If you are interested in learning more about the world’s third largest economy or are seeking broader regional support then please do not hesitate to contact the China office. guy.drudrury@cbi.org.uk