An old Japanese proverb claims that wealth grows on the tree of persistence. The anonymous author was surely not thinking of Japanese-UAE relations in the 21st century when it was penned. But it’s a fitting description of exactly that.
Despite the torpor afflicting the world’s leading economies, trade between Japan and the UAE is on a blistering ascent. The value of bilateral trade increased by 14.5 per cent to $27.2 billion (Dh99.8 billion) during the first six months of 2012, compared to the same time frame in 2011, according to the Japan External Trade Organisation.
Last year was also a remarkable year for fiscal progress. Two-way trade spiked by a staggering 37.5 per cent to reach $50.3 billion, compared to $36.6 billion in 2010. This surge has resulted in the UAE being rated ninth on the nation’s largest trade partners list. “Japanese companies are looking to invest in the UAE more vigorously. It’s a good sign that, through business, we’re going to have even closer relations,” says Yoshihiko Kamo, Japanese Ambassador to the UAE. “Trade centres on oil and gas. But as the UAE has increased its clout in serving as the regional transportation and communication hub, and trade business as a whole, businessmen look to the UAE as a key door to the Middle East, Gulf States and Africa.
“Now I think it’s time to be more ambitious. Not only should we have good business dealings, but we should have a better understanding of the two cultures and their characteristics. Japanese people can learn a lot from the people of the UAE and the Arabian culture,” he says.
Business dealings between the two countries are diversifying. While Japan consumes more than 30 per cent of the UAE’s crude oil exports, which comprises the bulk of the $42.9 billion (Dh157.4 billion) of Japanese imports, the country’s automobiles account for more than half the cars sold in the UAE. In the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that rocked the island, the Japanese found a steadfast comrade in the UAE. “The UAE was so generous and kind to extend their help to the disaster stricken areas. We are much obliged to the UAE people for their kindness at a very difficult time,” he says. The nuclear power plant that proved to be the catastrophic catalyst in March 2011 is a subject of concern for both nations.
Japan signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on nuclear energy cooperation with the UAE in January 2009, according to WAM, the Emirates News Agency.
But is nuclear energy a justifiable investment? While declining to say whether it is the most efficient, sustainable option for developers, Kamo says: “When it comes to energy policy, Fukushima certainly gives great lessons for all to heed. We are still struggling to cope [with the aftermath]. But we are learning a lot out of our experience.
“Perhaps it’s a bit premature for me to comment on the nuclear policy that the UAE should take for their future energy needs. Each sovereign state has its own right to select the best possible way for their people to benefit from, but I do hope [the UAE] can take something out of the lessons from Fukushima.”
In November dignitaries from Japan and the UAE gathered for the second annual Abu Dhabi Japan Economic Council (AJEC).
Nasser Ahmed Al Sowaidi, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development, Hiraonao Honda, Parliamentary Vice Minister of Economy for Trade and Industry, and Tadatsuna Koda, President of Japan Cooperation Center for the Middle East, were present to enhance economic ties, promote tourism, academic research and private sector performance between the two countries. “It may not produce big, major projects one after the other, but [AJEC] serves as a good vehicle for the respective countries’ businessmen to travel together towards mutually beneficial goals,” says Kamo.
Although tourism between Japan and the UAE slumped in 2011, this year’s figures reflect a positive trend. In the first six months 30,727 Japanese tourists visited the UAE — a 26 per cent increase compared to the same period last year, according to the Department of Tourism, Commerce & Marketing (DTCM).
Matsunaga Daisuke, the Japanese Consulate General to the UAE, has earmarked tourism as a driver to policy. “It is my intention to advertise the charms of Japan as a tourist destination widely among the local community,” Daisuke says.
Box: First Impressions – Ambassador Kamo
Taking office as the Japanese Ambassador to the UAE is Yoshihiko Kamo’s first assignment in the Middle East, let alone the Gulf. GN Focus asked him what his first impressions of the UAE are.
“It’s a very pleasant surprise. It’s very clean. It’s a really vibrant and dynamic place and there is lots of work going on with all the construction sights. And in the middle of all this you have lots of futuristic buildings rising out of nowhere. I really like hearing the beautiful adhan every 5 hours. It’s a very interesting mixture of tradition and modernity in harmony.
“What strikes me is that the leadership is really active. They are very visible through the media. It’s apparent that they are the real driving force behind this country. And this is so great for a young country to have such dynamic leaders driving it forward,” Kamo says, evidently excited about the unique challenges the post of Ambassador to the UAE will throw-up.