- Yoshio SATO
- Chair, Committee on Europe, Keidanren
(Chairman of the Board,
Sumitomo Life Insurance Company)
- Hiroaki ISHIZUKA
- Chair, Committee on Europe, Keidanren
(Member of the Board, Vice Chairman,
Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Corporation)
In view of the importance of the Japan-Europe relationship, a region which boasts a population of 500 million and shares fundamental values, such as democracy, the rule of law and free market economy, Keidanren dispatches a business delegation (Keidanren Mission) annually to various European countries. In 2016, from October 17 to 21, we visited Slovenia, Slovakia and Finland accompanying with around 40 participants from 19 companies.
In each country, we were able to meet and hold meaningful discussion with political leaders including the President and the prime minister as well as business leaders. Along with their strong expectations for further strengthening economic ties with Japan, all three countries expressed support for reaching agreement in principle on the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) at the earliest possible time, sharing the view that the EPA will serve as a strong foundation for enhancing interactions between Japan and EU member countries. This was a tangible achievement for our mission. Regarding the issues surrounding "Brexit" (United Kingdom's withdrawal from the EU), the three countries were of the position that the European Union should adhere to the basic principles of a single market and the so-called four freedoms of movement, while seeking to maintain a favorable relationship with Britain.
As the advanced industrial region in the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia has continued to achieve high production levels with its 2015 GDP reaching a record high of 38.57 billion euro. Slovenia also has the highest GDP per capita of 18,700 euro in Central and Eastern Europe. With economic relations between Japan and Slovenia making steady progress, Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar showed his eagerness to extend various exchanges, including science and culture, in the future. Regarding the government's effort to expand foreign direct investment, Minister of Economic Development and Technology Zdravko Počivalšek explained that the Government is considering tax relief, simplified administrative procedures as well as flexible labor regulations. Meanwhile, Minister of Infrastructure Peter Gašperšič remarked on how the government is focusing on infrastructure developments, such as extending railroad networks, modernizing highways and expanding the Port of Koper, in order to enhance the transport capacity ranging from South to Central and East Europe, Russia and Ukraine.
Slovakia has realized high economic growth and a balanced budget with its unemployment rate showing a declining trend, driven by the auto industry which is the world's largest per capita car producer. However, Deputy Prime Minister for Investments Peter Pellegrini stated it is indispensable for Slovakia to change the industrial structure that relies heavily on automobiles and promote diversification to achieve sustainable growth in the future. In fact, the government is focusing on encouraging the development of cutting-edge technologies, particularly the Internet of Things (IoT), while actively attracting investment in digital infrastructure and training technical personnel. Minister of Economy Peter Žiga emphasized their support for the investment from Japan, noting there is still much room for development in economic relations between the two countries. He also showed his intention to vigorously tackle various domestic issues, such as securing a sufficient labor force, boosting wages, and improving highways and other public infrastructure.
Until recently Finland has suffered from a severe economic downturn due to rising government debt, expanding budget deficits and persistently high unemployment. However, the nation's economy is now beginning to be revitalized from its stagnation after having introduced tax relief measures and concluded the Competitiveness Pact designed to improve its competitiveness in June 2016. State Secretary Jari Partanen outlined the Finnish government's long-term visionary framework, stressing that the government will push through a series of reforms affecting pensions, welfare, medical care, municipal government costs, local administrative structures, and regulatory systems, with a view to boosting its employment rate to 72 percent (creating 100,000 jobs).
When Finnish President Sauli Niinistö visited Japan for a summit meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in March 2016, the two leaders issued a joint statement on a strategic partnership to reaffirm cooperation across a wide range of fields, such as politics, economy, national security and Arctic research. In preparation for the upcoming 100th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Finland in 2019, President Niinistö as well as Finnish political and business leaders voiced strong support for bilateral collaboration in developing the Arctic region, ICT (information and communications technology)/digital technology, bioeconomy and clean technology.
The Committee on Europe will continue to host meetings with European dignitaries visiting Japan and to dispatch missions to European countries, thereby contributing to the expansion of economic exchanges between Japan and Europe through various activities.