According to a senior Japanese trade official, Southeast Asia is quickly becoming a more important region for investors than the United States, and this is set to continue with the coming of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015. “The ASEAN market is an important partner (of Japan) from the trade and investment point of view,” said Tatushiro Shindo, who is the director-general for creative industries at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), during an interview that took place at the 2014 Build Eco Expo in Singapore.
Shindo, who is the former director of JETRO Chicago, stated that the U.S. used to be Japan’s most important trading partner, but that this is “changing quite rapidly”. Trade between Japan and ASEAN reached US$240.9 billion in 2013, which accounted for 9.6% ASEAN’s total trade value. Trade between the United States and Japan totaled US$204 billion in 2013, by comparison.
Besides trade, Japan is one of the largest investors in the ASEAN market as well. Japanese foreign direct investment (FDI) in ASEAN wasUS$22.9 billion in 2013, making it the second-largest source of foreign direct investment for Southeast Asia.
Because of the increasing importance of ASEAN, Shindo said that JETRO is advising small and medium enterprises in Japan to look toward Southeast Asia as a potential market for their products and services. He stated that Japan’s numerous trade agreements with ASEAN countries will make it easier to start business operations in the region. JETRO is also encouraging SMEs in Japan to look upon the region as a large, single economy due to the ASEAN Economic Community’s formation.
Shindo also sees much potential in the rising demand for construction materials throughout Southeast Asia and says that eco-friendly products that are made in Japan, such as bent glass, and wall-plaster that is produced from volcanic ash and is able to control humidity, could be marketed and sold throughout ASEAN.
In addition, Shindo expressed his wish to help other countries in Southeast Asia venture abroad themselves. “We have 55 years of experience specializing in trade promotion and much credibility with the international community. We don’t want to be selfish, we would like to share all our knowledge that we have developed over the past 50 years”.