The Japanese economic partnership agreement will create lots of opportunities for enterprising Australians.
Those of a certain age can recall a time when Japan was viewed as the world’s rising economic powerhouse. Back then, Australian schoolchildren were being encouraged to learn how to decipher kanji (Japanese writing), Australian businesses were looking to ape their all-conquering Japanese peers by adopting exotic practices such as kaizen (continuous improvement) and foreign policy experts were fretting over the inevitability of armed conflict between a fading US and a resurgent Nippon.
Of course, Japan’s economy went off the boil, China’s took off and Australians largely lost interest in the Land of the Rising Sun. But with Shinzo Abe visiting to ink the Japanese-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement, it looks like we might now be partying like it’s 1989 once more.
There’s only around 100 Australian companies presently active in Japan, compared to 3000 in China, so there’s a lot of virgin territory.
“In the 1950s it was Japan that provided Australia with a beachhead from which it could later enter other markets in China, India and ASEAN [Association of South-East Asian Nations]. We should never forget that it is because of Japan that we’re so well positioned to be a part of the Asian century,” notes Tim Harcourt, who spent a year living in Japan as a child before growing up to become “The Airport Economist”.
Harcourt, previously the first chief economist of the Australian Trade Commission and currently a University of NSW academic, paints a beguiling picture of the opportunities now on offer in Japan. “It’s a stretch to compare it to what Hawke and Keating did in opening up the Australian economy but in the Japanese context the economic reforms Shinzo Abe has pursued are revolutionary. The healthcare, wellbeing, education and lifestyle sectors that have traditionally been closed to foreigners are opening up. There’s now scope for joint ventures in agribusiness, IT and biotechnology and numerous regions throughout Japan are hungry for Australian investment and expertise in areas such as food and beverage. Plus, there’s only around 100 Australian companies presently active in Japan, compared to 3000 in China, so there’s a lot of virgin territory out there.”
Catherine Cervasio, a former model and beauty writer turned skincare entrepreneur, is excited to be finally adding Japan to the list of her Asian export markets. “Over the last dozen years I’ve exported my all-natural, organic baby skincare brand Aromababy to South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. Japanese consumers have been buying my product online for some time but selling into a country that way is labour intensive and usually not very cost effective for either party. Now, with the relationship between Japan and Australia strengthening and high import taxes being reduced, I’m looking forward to moving into the Japanese market via a distribution partner there.”
The Australian Brewery, a craft beer brewer based in Rouse Hill, NSW, will be sending the first pallets of its pale ale and pilsner to Japan this month. Konishi, Japan’s largest beer importer, will then stock it in hundreds of outlets, including bookseller Kinokuniya and foreign food outlet Seijo Ishii.
Marcello Colosimo, the company’s owner, says, “We’re looking to have our product stocked throughout the Asia-Pacific and are currently in talks with people in China and Thailand but Japan is our first export market win. Cracking Japan came down to building a relationship over time with Konishi. They saw the strength in our branding and the quality of the beer and were prepared to run with it.”
So what advice do those with some experience dealing with Japanese consumers and businesses have to offer? Harcourt suggests entrepreneurial Aussies think laterally. “In my book [The Airport Economist] I profile Australian business-people based in Japan who are doing everything from running property development businesses to setting up online recruitment sites. If someone has an idea for a business they’ll find both Austrade and JETRO [Japan External Trade Organization] will be happy to provide guidance.”
“The Japanese people have a lot of goodwill towards Australia and Australians and there seems to be a thirst for Australian products,” notes Colosimo. “I’ve been fortunate in being able to partner with a Japanese company that I trust to look after my brand, which is obviously crucial.”
Cervasio is similarly upbeat. “Attracting overseas buyers doesn’t have to be difficult but you need a strategy in place. You need to protect your intellectual property and, if you are partnering with a local company, you need to ensure it’s the right fit for your business. Then it’s just a matter of having adequate staff and stock to cope if you go through a rapid phase of export-fuelled growth.”