The main objective of a substantial delegation of Japanese businessmen which arrives in Mauritius today, 20th of February, is to explore investment opportunities in leading industries. Hiroyuki Nemoto, member of the delegation and also the Executive Director of JETRO Johannesburg, gives an insight of Japan's surge to build stronger relationships with Mauritius.
How come that such in a hurry so much emphasis is being laid on the necessity to establish new links with the business community and the government of Mauritius by Japan?
This mission in Mauritius has not come out of the blue. Rather, we have built on the successive positive engagements between our two countries since it achieved its independence in 1968. Our organization, JETRO - the Japan External Trade Organization - is just one Japanese group working to strengthen the ties between our two great countries. We have been working with our partners at Enterprise Mauritius and the Board of Investment (who are now part of the Economic Development Board) for nearly a decade now.
If you have to select one specific initiative whereby you have gathered a clear success, what would it be?
This would certainly be the partnership between the JETRO Johannesburg office and Enterprise Mauritius for Foodex Japan. It stands out as one of our greatest achievements that has been very successful. Foodex Japan is the largest food and beverage expo in Asia which attracts buyers from all over the world - 77,000 in 2017 alone. It is an amazing opportunity for companies to test their products for the highly profitable Asians markets.
But these expos are expensive, especially for companies in developing countries like in Africa. So JETRO created the JETRO Zone within Foodex where developing countries can exhibit at significantly reduced rates and have access to free services such as translators. We actively recruit and support companies from these countries to exhibit in the JETRO Zone.
With the help of our partner Enterprise Mauritius, since 2010, we have recruited over 25 companies from Mauritius alone. Some of the success stories include Chamarel Rum, E.C. Oxenham and Sapmer Premium Sea Products which all found new customers thanks to their participation in the show. Rum has enjoyed particular success following the show with orders increasing from 2010-2012 by 215%.
The current mission is far from being the first Japanese delegation in Maurice. What makes this mission so special?
In the last five years, there have been three different Japanese delegations, excluding the current JETRO-CCCI mission. The most recent delegation of government and private business officials was led by our State minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, the Honourable Suematsu Shinsuke.
Moreover, 45 Japanese companies and Japanese affiliated companies have a presence here. The present mission would not have been possible without the assistance of the Board of Investment (BoI). Over the last year, the BoI have provided invaluable support by highlighting several opportunities in Mauritius for Japanese business and linking us to other stakeholders in both the private and governmental spheres... So, this mission is building on all these efforts.
Why have you waited so long before making prospective observations on investment potentials of Mauritius?
With the opening of the new embassy of Japan over here in January last year and the celebration this year of the 50th anniversary of the Independence of Mauritius, 2018 is an auspicious time for such a delegation. Mauritius has become one of the most important countries in Africa, thanks to its developmental efforts. These include its continued stability and efforts to diversify and grow its economy. So, for Japanese business, now is the perfect time for a business delegation to visit Mauritius and strengthen our ties.
The aim of this mission is to promote and facilitate the development of Japanese Business activities over here. What are the basic requirements that you would expect from Mauritius in order to secure your willingness to do business here?
These are fairly standard for investors, but Japanese businesses tend to look for opportunities and growth potential in the local market as well as the country's ability to link to other markets. Others are: the ease of communication; the political, social and economic stability; the existence of sufficient infrastructure; pool of local companies to work with; good labour and good incentives.
Mauritius is very strong in all of these. It has great trade links in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and India which makes it very attractive to multinational investors. Its citizens speak English and French - some of the key international business languages that Japanese people learn. Its infrastructure, especially ICT and transport, is excellent.
The political and business environments are stable and transparent - key factors in long term investing. Its labour force is educated and hardworking. Not to mention the attractive incentives it is offering to foreign businesses such as 100% foreign ownership and 15% corporate tax. All of these make Mauritius very attractive to us to invest and do business.
What type of business activities will be taken on board ?
Our delegation represents a diverse range of companies. We believe that this is a key advantage of the mission as they cover so many diverse sectors from infrastructure, mining and energy to consumer goods manufacture and ICT. However, their business strategies will be equally diverse and not easily summarized.
Moreover, we understand that Mauritius is highly competitive in the ICT, ocean economy and financial services sectors, among others. The purpose of this delegation is to better understand the Mauritian business environment and the opportunities available here. So, we have come with open minds.
What should be done to reduce Mauritius' commercial deficit against Japan?
It has been Japan's policy since 1993, with the inception of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development, that African countries be partners with Japan and that they lead their own development. This is what has differentiated Japanese investment in Africa from many others. The business community shares this view.
JETRO has continually worked to implement this in our projects. Foodex is a great example. It gives foreign companies in developing countries, especially from Africa, new opportunities to grow their business - not only in Japan but in other Asian markets as well. We believe Mauritius, which has worked so hard already to improve its economy, can improve this deficit. But to do this, it needs to lower trade barriers. A good start would be entering into a free trade agreement or an Economic Partnership Agreement with Japan.
Up to now, Japan has evolved rather comfortably on our deep rooted economic model whereby we consume much more than that we produce for the global market to get revenue. How far the concept of transfer of know-how mainly in sophisticated areas has been included in your approach?
Japan is proud of its commitment to treating African countries as partners. One way we can live up to this is through skills and knowledge transfer because we believe in growing local capabilities. At a governmental level, there is the African Business Education Initiative for the Youth or ABE Initiative. This will assist approximately 1,000 African students to study at Japanese universities and intern at Japanese companies in order to better contribute to Africa's development.
Japanese business too has a lot to offer. It is famous for its advanced technological expertise and its unique management philosophy of kaizen. This places a strong emphasis on a person's continual improvement. It encourages ingenuity and requires us to support employees - including our foreign employees-to seek excellence in their roles. There are examples of this commitment in the real world.
JETRO, for example, offers short term training programs in Japan to develop our counterparts' skills. Earlier this month, we sent 2 delegations from South Africa and Mozambique on such a program. So, Japan and Japanese business are committed to knowledge transfer. Not only is it necessary for Africa's development but it makes business sense.
There are a lot of expectations from your side. What would be the principal features of your mission if it ends up on a successful note?
For us, this mission will be a success if we can help Japanese companies make the right connections to assist them should they want to invest. Like Mauritians, we believe in building strong relationships and this mission is an opportunity to set that process in motion. We believe we will achieve this thanks to our carefully planned mission structure as we have tried to give Japanese companies a wide view of Mauritius and what it has to offer.
We also hope the delegation members enjoy their time here. We hope they get to know the local people - their warmth, dedication and ambition. It is also a beautiful ocean paradise. We want them to experience the life here. And we strongly feel that this will be the case.