The ACCJ overall and many of our Committees and Task Forces have been deeply engaged in thinking about best approaches to return the Tohoku region to economic vitality after the dreadful events of March 11. President Mike Alfant often says that in meeting the challenges Japan and the foreign business community face in Tohoku we should talk not about simply rebuilding what has been destroyed, but rather the operative word should be renewal.
One ACCJ effort that has already drawn attention from Japanese officials at the highest level is the set of recommendations outlined by the Internet Economy Task Force. Their paper gives a vision for renewal with recommendations on how harnessing the power of the Internet and cloud computing can spur innovation and growth in various sectors including telecommunications, small business, education, healthcare and the environment. Through a personal introduction from a very senior contact of Vice President Jim Foster, ACCJ leaders have been able to meet at the highest levels with Japanese officials involved in the recovery process.
The plan they are developing is being put together in a volatile political environment but it seems clear that our suggestions will help to reinforce the arguments of those officials who are looking to turn the Tohoku economic clock forward, not backward.
Speaking of economic policy clocks, I think we are all sorry to see that the TPP consideration process in Japan has been slowed down by the disasters and ensuing political stalemate. According to The Oriental Economist (TOE), a well-respected newsletter on Japanese politics, the March 11 events and subsequent exposure of risks to the supply chain could further accelerate the hollowing out of Japan’s manufacturing industries. Another major factor contributing to this hollowing out, according to TOE, is Japan’s lackluster record for concluding free trade agreements.
JETRO figures show that there is explosive growth in Japanese companies’ exports to ASEAN countries but that growth is not coming from Japan based manufacturing. It is coming from Japanese companies’ facilities based in other ASEAN nations to take advantage of the FTA there. Multiply this experience by the many other bilateral and regional FTAs that exist and it seems highly probable that in order to save jobs in the shrinking agricultural sector, Japan is sacrificing manufacturing jobs. But of course the politics is not simple and even in the States, there could be potholes on the road to TPP participation.
Finally, those of you who call in or stop by the office have likely had the pleasant experience of dealing with Sayaka Mori who has been serving as administrative assistant and coordinator for a number of events and activities. Sayaka will be leaving the ACCJ to take a position as a weather forecaster at NHK. This is a highly competitive and heavily sought job. We will be sad that Sayaka is leaving us but we are very proud that she can fulfill her dream.