13/08/2020 - 15:49

Is Japan Australia's key partner in Asia?

13/08/2020 - 15:49


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Businesses should take a fresh look at building relationships in Japan, with the country set to become an increasingly important ally for Australia, experts say.

Is Japan Australia's key partner in Asia?
Yuki Nakamura says Japanese consumers loved the story behind her chocolate. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

Businesses should take a fresh look at building relationships in Japan, with the country set to become an increasingly important ally for Australia, experts say.

Australia and Japan’s collaboration to rebuild the Trans-Pacific Partnership after the exit of the United States in 2017 is just one example of how the two countries might work together, according to panellists in the latest episode of Business News’ Connecting Latitudes series.

Both countries were stable, reliable partners, former Australian Ambassador to Japan Bruce Miller said.

“We’re living in an increasingly uncertain world, we’ve got COVID-19, we’ve got increasing tension between the United States and China, the world economy has taken a big blow,” Mr Miller said.

“Amidst all of that, the Australia-Japan relationship is in good shape… because both countries are stable, reliable partners in an increasingly uncertain world.

“We’ve become even more important to one another in the last little while.”

One challenge was the United States becoming more skeptical of economic integration.

“Australia and Japan derive huge benefits from an open and integrated globalised economy,” he said.

Japan has been a major source of foreign investment into Australia, which made it probably Australia’s most important economic partnership in Asia, Mr Miller said.

But China is also vitally important, he added.

Perth USAsia Centre chief executive Gordon Flake agreed.

“The Australia-Japan partnership, there’s a lot of areas we’re working together more closely than ever,” Professor Flake said.

“Japan is taking a level of leadership we haven’t seen before, and candidly, few of us anticipated.

“Japan, together with Australia, took the lead reviving and bringing into force a modernised version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“That would never have happened 10 years ago if the United States (withdrew).”

Professor Flake said Australia and Japan were also spearheading negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership with countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“Japan and Australia are stepping up to play a leadership role, to fill a vacuum, frankly, the United States has left open,” he said.

Western Australians also needed to update their perspectives on Japan, Professor Flake said.

“Much of our resources industry was built on Japanese investment,” he said.

“There hasn’t been any diminution of Japanese investment, it continues.

“Japan has remained one of the most important parties on that front.

“Japan is increasingly seeing its own role as different.

“Western Australians need to take a new look at Japan… we need to look at it through a fresh lens.”

Mr Miller said Japanese people generally had positive views of Australia, but there was always scope to build a bigger presence.

And there was work to be done at the governmental level.

“It’s important for governments to keep on identifying barriers to trade and investment and negotiating them away,” Mr Miller said.

“We’ve got a free trade agreement, which has been very successful.

“But there are still things for example that make it difficult for sugar, for dairy products, for cheese... quarantine and specifications issues.

“There’s a lot of activity (happening) there.”

Doing business

Nakamura Chocolates founder Yuki Nakamura has taken her Perth-made artisanal chocolates into the Japanese market, selling at major retailers.

Ms Nakamura said she had consistently positive feedback from Japanese people about Australia.

“All the feedback is positive,” she said.

“They have a good experience.

“They know it’s clean, it’s safe, they love the open space.”

The story behind how the chocolates were made was a key selling point.

“When I recall back, what worked for us… when we brought chocolates and our brand to Japan, we also brought the Australian ingredients,” Ms Nakamura said.

“Very unique ingredients.

“We also brought stories.

“How we made it, how this chocolate was delivered from primary producers to consumers.

“I think that’s what’s necessary, to bring a little human touch and connection to whatever (businesses) are selling.

“(Then) people feel more empathetic… they feel more close.

“They have to see the story behind it.”

It was important to blend the Australian approach to business with Japanese culture.

“Australia is a relatively new country, a lot of people are more willing to accept other cultures, and other lifestyles,” she said.

“In Japan they are quite open, however it's a small island country and they have a quite strong culture, social norms, pride, and they like to preserve some of that.”


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