On April 12th, in connection with the anniversary celebrations of the 120 years of diplomatic relations between Greece and Japan, the Institute for International Economic Relations (IDOS) and the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), in cooperation with the Embassy of Japan in Greece, co-organised a business seminar titled ‘Japan as an important partner of the EU and Greece’ at the offices of IDOS in Athens. The event aimed at contributing to a better understanding of the significant role played by Japan on a global scale at a challenging juncture of the early 21st Century. Japan is the largest economy in the world, with a GDP in the range of $ 4.9 trillion. Some of its biggest enterprises are global trend-setters and promote state-of-the-art technologies. The EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), which entered into force on February 1st 2019, is the biggest trade agreement ever negotiated by the EU and creates an open zone covering over 600 million people. Japan has been a traditional ally of the West and liberal democracies in the post WWII era and a pillar of stability in East Asia. An active member of the United Nations and a major donor, Japan has been contributing to poverty alleviation, socio-economic development and combatting climate change as a global player.
This year, Greece and Japan celebrate the 120th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations. Both countries are firmly committed to the values of peace. Democracy and socio-economic development and look forward to advancing their friendship and cooperation to an even higher level. Japanese Ambassador, H.E. Yasuhiro Shimizu and the Political Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Theodoros Georgakelos, addressed the attendees and expressed their conviction that bilateral relations would be enhanced through business activities. At the same time, Ambassador Georgakelos wished for the success of the visit of Greek Foreign Minister George Katrougalos to Tokyo and referred to personal memories regarding Japan, its culture, day-to-day life and products; namely, aesthetic beauty, high quality and splendid design. He also stressed that Japan is acknowledged as an “economic super-power”, with a reemerging and increasing influence worldwide, while its cooperation with Greece, a country that attempts to increase its economic potency and influence in Southern Europe and the EU, represents as highly significant.
Ambassador Shimizu mentioned the Greek and Japanese antiquity as a cultural bond and the main characteristics by which Japanese culture is known to the West today: cuisine, animation (anime), martial arts (as actual sports, or through cinema). He underlined the importance of the two countries economic cooperation, mainly in the maritime sector and the fact that recently an increasing number of Greeks seek financial opportunities in Japan. Finally, the Japanese Ambassador stated that: “ship industries are the main pillar of Greco-Japanese relations”.
During the first part, Dr. Thanos Dokos, ELIAMEP’s General Manager, presented data on the geopolitical significance of Japan, in regard to maintaining the balance of power in the international system. The global debate revolves around China and the US, while Japan is the silent power, he added. Dr. Dokos concluded by stating that a more active Japan in the global forefront can have a crucial, influential role and significantly balance the relations between US and China.
On his part, Plamen Tonchev, Head of the Asian Studies Programme of IDOS, made a reference to the Economic Partnership Agreement between the EU and Japan, due to which EU firms already export over €58 billion in goods and €28 billion in services to Japan every year. He reminded his audience that the increasingly important sector of telecommunications should be promoted within the framework of the agreement. He also spoke about the ‘Quality Infrastructure Initiative’, concerning the plan for investment and development aid in Asia and overseas.
A short presentation followed by George Cunningham, Strategic Adviser of the European External Action Service, on ‘Europe – Asia Connectivity’. He said that the Quality Infrastructure Initiative is positively perceived by the EU connectivity strategy and that the EU and Japan connectivity is not an attempt to oppose China. Regarding that ambition, he mentioned that the goals are sustainable connectivity and mutual benefits for the parties involved and furthermore for the US, China and Asia in general, Australia, Africa. Funding and financial contributions are necessary to promote and solidify connectivity. Therefore, the European Regional Development Fund and Cohesion Fund is to be set in motion in 2021. The majority of the project will focus on smart growth and the green economy, while the fund will also support other activities such as connectivity, social issues and local development.
In the second part, Ioannis Gorogias, Export Manager of MEVGAL SA, Panagiotis Theocharakis, Vice President & Managing Director of Nissan/Nick Theocharakis SA and Panagiotis Soulis, Technical Superintendent of Tsakos Group, spoke about their own experience of being active in Japan in the cheese, automotive and shipping industries respectively. They mentioned that in order to do business in Japan, one needs to understand the local customs and ethics; the decision-making process in a Japanese company is made by teams and the Japanese are the most reliable and loyal partners one can find in the world! Finally, Seiichi Gyobu, Regional Manager, Nippon Kaiji Kyokai (ClassNK) mainly referred to naval constructional technologies and innovations regarding safer and faster travel and the reduction of fuel consumption during sailing, explaining the history and prospects for cooperation between the two countries in the shipping industry. After the seminar, the participants, together with business representatives from both countries, exchanged views enjoying sushi, sake and Greek wine.