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The Warsaw Voice » National Voice » January 27, 2011
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New Stage of Economic Relations
January 27, 2011   
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Yuichi Kusumoto, Japan’s Ambassador to Poland, talks to Witold Żygulski:

How would you assess the state of economic relations between Japan and Poland and between Japan and the European Union as a whole?
I have been here for a year and three months now. I am very pleased to note that our economic relations have been expanding, even entering a new stage. First of all, there has been a significant increase in Japanese business presence in Poland. Now we have 254 Japanese companies in Poland and the number of our companies is continuously growing. In Japan, we are paying more and more attention to the Polish market. Japanese companies have been especially active in such areas as the car-making industry and the electronic goods industry. But nowadays a new kind of business has also appeared, for example in the environment and energy sector. Polish companies are paying attention to the Japanese technology in this area, especially when it comes to clean, environment-friendly energy.

The main problem with our economic relations is that there is still one-sided movement. I would very much like to encourage Polish companies to enter the Japanese market, and to try to successfully compete there. The Polish economy is growing, companies—not only the large ones, but also medium and small ones—are doing well. The situation seems to be favorable. So my task—as well as the task of the Polish ambassador in Tokyo—is not only to encourage Japanese companies to invest in Poland, but also to invite Polish businesses to Japan.

Speaking of Japan-EU relations, the European Union is our major partner together with the United States and Asia, particularly China. It comprises 27 countries now, with a combined population of more than 500 million. EU consumers are very sophisticated, so we are targeting them as customers for our sophisticated products. Current Japan-EU relations are at a very important stage. We have a new government elected last year. Our leaders believe that Japan has to open up its market in order to stimulate economic relations with EU. We have to facilitate trade and investment by creating a more favorable business environment for economic cooperation as a whole. Last year, we had the Japan-EU summit in Tokyo, where we agreed to start joint examinations on the new Japan-EU economic partnership agreement. Now, we are working very hard on it with the aim to agree to start negotiations at the next Japan-EU summit to be held this spring.

You said you would like to encourage Polish companies to come to Japan; in what areas do you see potential for them?
It is difficult to say. Obviously, Polish business people do not have enough experience on the Japanese market, but I am sure that some of them consider entering it. Recently, our embassy organized the first seminar, inviting representatives from the Polish government and Polish companies, to provide information on how the Japanese market is opening up. Also, here in Warsaw we have a branch of JETRO, our semigovernmental organization whose task is to promote the mutual trade and investment between Japan and Poland. In Tokyo, there is a trade section of the Polish embassy and the Polish Chamber of Commerce, which also provides business information. Together, I hope, we will gradually be able to find some areas in which Polish companies could find interesting prospects for expanding their business on the Japanese market.

Are there any Polish products that are known and valued in Japan now?
We have a very good impression of Poland as a whole. When we hear “Poland” we immediately associate it with such great names as Frederic Chopin, Nicolas Copernicus or Marie Curie-Skłodowska. But, unfortunately, in terms of actual goods now imported from Poland, they are not so visible. I believe it is a part of a more serious problem: lack of national brands. Many countries are struggling with this issue; some—like the Czech Republic or Hungary—seem to have found some solutions. Poland, I think, is still on the way to solving this problem. It would be a good idea to create a more concrete and attractive image, a national brand, to be recognized worldwide and also in order to promote economic relations.

What in your opinion could be done to improve our knowledge of each other?
A very good way is, of course, tourism. Unfortunately, the number of Japanese tourists in Poland is still small, around 50,000 a year, and the number of Poles traveling to Japan is extremely limited—less than 8,000 a year. According to research done by tour operators, Japanese people do not have enough information on Poland and therefore have no clear image of the country, contrary to many other European countries. And in the case of Polish tourists in Japan it is of course a matter of the costs—the travel distance is long and we have a reputation as an expensive country. But now, we have the new “Welcome to Japan” government campaign for increasing the number of foreign visitors. We will try to offer not only luxury accommodation, but also small budget trips, which could be more affordable. We need direct contacts between Polish and Japanese travel companies. I also hope that Polish Airlines LOT will launch a direct flight from Warsaw to Tokyo in the near future.

Poland is trying to construct a network of high-speed railways, with the expected launch by 2020. What role can the Japanese technology play in this ambitious plan?
We are very much interested in assisting the Polish high-speed train system. In fact, we organized last year in Warsaw a special seminar focusing on the subject together with JETRO and we invited some people from the Japanese Shinkansen project. It was a really exciting experience; I felt very strong interest from the Polish side. The first section of the Shinkansen network was launched in 1964 in Japan. Since then, no accident resulting in death has occurred. The system is complex: it includes technology solutions on how to run trains, how to construct tracks, tunnels, bridges, how to operate the entire system and how to provide maximum hospitality for passengers. Shinkansen is the best example of our technology and of our culture and tradition as well. Now, we are very much interested in exporting our system to foreign countries. Poland has a strong economy and a huge population. High-speed railways are definitely needed in Poland, so I see very good prospects for the future.

In Poland there is still a heated public debate on nuclear energy. In Japan, nuclear power plants have been in operation for almost 50 years. Is cooperation in this field also in store?
Nuclear energy is getting more and more important everywhere, not only because it is efficient, but also because of environmental reasons. All EU countries are now making maximum efforts aimed at environmental-friendly technologies. We are of course very interested in exporting our technologies and we strongly believe they are the best available. In Poland, we have already started to work in the area of nuclear energy at the government level. We signed an agreement on cooperation. At the level of companies, they also have already started some contacts concerning future cooperation. One important field is, for example, training staff and other technical assistance for future nuclear power plants—we have enormous experience in this area. We can also offer our know-how on how to approach to the local community near the future nuclear sites, how to address to their concerns. I am sure that in the near future Japanese companies will contribute enormously to the construction and opening of the first Polish nuclear power plants.

Speaking of the environment and energy sectors in general, we hope to offer Poland our advanced technologies to reduce pollution, particularly for power plants based on coal. I also believe that Poland is in need of energy-saving and renewable energy technologies, which are one of our export specialties. I am absolutely sure that in the coming years the field of environmentally-friendly technologies will be one of our main areas of fruitful cooperation.
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