Long-standing relationship is entering a new phase

Akio Isomata, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to the UAE
Akio Isomata, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to the UAE

Akio Isomata, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to the UAE, discusses how both nations are aligning their goals for a common future. Excerpts from an interview



The UAE and Japan share close to 50 years of relationship. How will this milestone be commemorated?

Assalam Alaykum! I have just arrived at Abu Dhabi and sincerely hope that I can make as much contribution as possible to the promotion of friendly and cooperative relationship between Japan and the UAE during my tenure. I am thrilled to serve as Ambassador of Japan to the UAE at the time when the two nations celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations in 2022. It is an important milestone that enables us to explore and expand new frontiers for bilateral cooperation based upon solid foundation of the past 50 years’ relations.

Cooperation between Japan and the UAE have recently been evolving into a variety of areas based on longstanding cooperation in the field of oil exploration, production and trade, such as: infrastructure; renewable energy; outer space; defense industries; agriculture and food; medical and health care; retail business; tourism; contents and creative industries; sports and much more. There are areas in which we are already seeing significant progress, while there are also areas where we would like to see new or renewed development from now on. I believe potentials for the development of our bilateral relations are infinitely huge, considering the accumulation of our cooperative efforts so far on one hand, and strategic advantage the UAE embraces on the other hand, such as political stability of the society, openness of the economy towards the world, geographical feature as a hub of trade and transportation, etc.

$22.4 billion in bilateral trade between the UAE and Japan was recorded in 2020. What does this signify for the Japanese economy?

The UAE is an important provider of crude oil to Japan. Thirty per cent of the imported crude oil of Japan is from the UAE, and thus the UAE is an important partner for the energy security of Japan. Through the provision of crude oil to Japan, the UAE has immensely contributed to the economic development of Japan.

Reversely, 27 per cent of the exported crude oil of the UAE is directed to Japan, the biggest importer to the UAE. Through the trade of oil, Japan has contributed to the development of the UAE.

Furthermore, major export items from Japan to the UAE are automobiles and machineries in which Japan boasts strong competitive advantage and which are important sectors in Japan’s trade industry. The UAE has been an important trading partner for Japan.

Japan has also contributed to the UAE’s landmark projects — the Dubai Metro for one. The Dubai Metro was constructed by a consortium of Japanese companies, and since its operation in 2009, has steadily grown as a crucial day-to-day public transportation means for the residents of Dubai. The Dubai Metro is also one of the most important modes of transportation to carry visitors to the Expo site. Since this September, a consortium including Japanese companies operates it. In addition to these areas of cooperation, we aim to expand the field of cooperation, especially in the area of de-carbonisation. Recently, Japanese companies have established cooperative relations with ADNOC for blue ammonia. We hope that cooperation in this field will further develop, and that the UAE and Japan will be able to lead the global de-carbonization trend.

What are the key areas of focus for this year, and furthermore?

With the long-standing friendly relations between the two countries as the basis, we are entering a new phase to expand and deepen the political, economic and cultural relations. On the occasion of the visit of Shinzo Abe, then Prime Minister of Japan, had the honour to meet with His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the UAE, in 2018 and discussed the launching of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Initiative (CSPI) between the two countries. The two leaders reviewed the progress towards achieving the objectives set in the CSPI and outlined the Shared Vision and the Joint Cooperation Strategy for the CSPI when then PM Abe visited the UAE again in January 2020.

In addition to full-scale implementation of the CSPI, I would like to explore new frontiers for cooperation toward the next 50 years, such as establishing a platform for supporting Japanese start-up companies already operating or planning to set up businesses in the UAE. Education and human resources development are also important as we consolidate everlasting, trustful relationship where the peoples of both countries can engage in in-depth exchanges and feel closer to each other. Youths are the hope for the future. We should continue to invest in this endeavour and make best efforts for the future of both our nations.

Can you please provide us an update on the UAE-Japan business council plan?

The UAE is a significantly important trade partner for Japan. The number of Japanese companies in the UAE is the largest in the Middle East and Africa region, and many Japanese companies have set up their HQs in this country. Both Japan and the UAE have discussed strengthening bilateral cooperative relationship not only in the energy sector but also in infrastructure and healthcare, through Abu Dhabi-Japan Joint Economic Council (ADJEC) joined by a broad range of companies.

To expand and diversify the cooperation between Japan and the UAE, we are considering developing the current economic council to an all UAE-Japan platform, in view of the launch of CSPI. Japan would like to accelerate bilateral discussion in this regard as soon as possible. Japan would like to leverage this opportunity to strengthen bilateral trade and business relationship in both public and private sector.

What are the most important industries in trade between both countries currently, and into which other sectors are you planning to further explore?

In addition to the cooperation in the areas I have mentioned, I believe that tourism is a field where both the UAE and Japan can cooperate and benefit from. Tourism is gaining much importance as a source of economic development in both countries. Japan’s tourism strategy aims to achieve 40 million visitors to Japan in the short term, and 60 million in the long-term. There are many people in the UAE who are fascinated with Japan’s food and culture and wish to visit Japan. If Japan can provide more variety of tourism products for long-stay, and collaborate with tourism operators, I believe that Japan will be an ideal destination for the people of the UAE to experience the unique nature, culture and food. Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) has established its first Middle East office in Dubai in November 2021, and will work to promote Japan as an attractive destination. Also, many Japanese has been visiting the UAE; before the Covid-19 pandemic, 130,000 Japanese people visited the UAE in 2019. We hope that many Japanese will visit the UAE on this occasion of the Dubai Expo, and experience the diverse features of this country.

What is the current strength of Japanese companies, and the community at large in the UAE?

The UAE is an important business hub for Japanese companies in the MENA region. The UAE’s social stability, quality business environment as well as concept of tolerance provides good investment opportunities for the private sector. As many as 4,300 Japanese expats live in the UAE, and 350 companies are located in the UAE. Especially, Dubai is an ideal business hub with its free zones, quality infrastructure, and openness to foreign companies. Recently, many Japanese companies established regional HQs in Dubai as a frontier to the MENA region. Of course, the abundant infrastructure projects in the UAE remains appealing to Japanese infrastructure companies. Japanese companies participate not only in oil projects, but also in power generation, desalination and railway projects.

Japanese companies also have good relations with other emirates. Needless to say, Japanese oil companies in Abu Dhabi have traditionally contributed to the increase of Japan-UAE bilateral trade. Sharjah has strength in the field of used car market. Ajman has long history of welcoming many Japanese business persons, and I hope that relations between Japanese companies and other Emirates will broaden and deepen in the near future.

Can you give us highlights of what is being planned at the Expo 2020 next?

The theme of the Japan Pavilion is ‘Where ideas meet’. The exhibition starts with the beautiful nature of Japan’s four seasons, leading to the introduction of the culture that Japanese people have cultivated through various encounters from the past to the present, and wisdom for problem solving. Visitors will encounter Japan based on their interests and will be able to pick up ‘seeds of ideas’. These can be experienced through an interactive exhibition space with projections created by talented creators and the latest AR (Augmented Reality) technology.

Furthermore, “Sushiro”, a major Japanese “rolling sushi” restaurant, is a must-visit eatery located next to the Japan pavilion. This is the only opportunity you can taste authentic Japanese rolling sushi, I hope many people will visit! Other highlights will be the ‘Health & Wellness Week’ and ‘Food, Agriculture & Livelihood Week’ held at Expo, in which Japan will participate.

After Expo 2020 Dubai, all eyes and focus will be in Osaka for the 2025 World Expo in Japan. How are the preparations coming along and what is being planned particularly in relationship with the GCC and and UAE?

Osaka-Kansai Expo 2025 carries ‘Designing Future Society for Our Lives’ as the main theme, and will be held from April 13 to October 13, 2025.

The Government of Japan has launched the Basic Policy and Basic Plan for Osaka-Kansai Expo 2025, and Japan has actively been promoting countries and entities to participate in the event. Dubai Expo 2020 is a very important opportunity for promoting Osaka-Kansai Expo 2025. Japan welcomes people from around the world, including from the UAE, to visit and enjoy Osaka-Kansai Expo 2025. Also, Japan can learn from Dubai Expo 2020. The operation and management are smooth and convenient for visitors. Japan would like to learn from the experiences of Dubai Expo 2020, including those of preventive measures for Covid-19 virus, for the success of Osaka-Kansai Expo 2025. I hope that all of the GCC countries join the Osaka-Kansai Expo 2025, which provides good opportunity for Japanese to enhance understanding of the GCC countries and contribute to the promotion of goodwill and friendly cooperation on both sides.

— rhonita@khaleejtimes.com


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