“Renewable energy, hydrogen and the circular economy are the sorts of technologies that give opportunity and space for cooperation between Japanese companies and universities and EU entities”
Aleksandra Czubak: What are the biggest challenges for the activities of the EU Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation during the global pandemic period?
Philippe de Taxis du Poët: There are several challenges, but I would say that there are also some opportunities.
In terms of challenges, of course, what we normally do at the Centre (for example physical business missions or face-to-face conferences) is no longer possible because of COVID 19. This means one of the challenges is to shift our activities from in-person to digital, and this is what we do with almost everything now. The seminars, the business missions we have are led in the form of virtual events.
But there are also some good sides and some positive impact of this situation that creates opportunities for us. For example, when we do a Webinar instead of in-person conference or workshop, we have many more participants than we had during the in-person conferences. We might even have 400 – 500 participants instead of 40 or 50. This really is a great increase in quantity.
The same applies to the virtual business matchmaking that we organize. There are many more companies and SMEs participating in virtual matchmaking. Digitalisation of our activities creates a great opportunity in terms of quality and easier access to meetings for a greater number of small and medium enterprises that would never participate in a face-to-face event. Some of them couldn’t afford to come to Japan themselves, because of lack of time, staff or financial resources. Currently, we can also reach out to such kinds of SME members, while digital tools enable us to keep in touch with them.
Virtual business matchmaking has also become a crucial asset for SMEs to survive these economically difficult times and still be able to build international partnerships with businesses across the world. The pandemic has triggered and accelerated digitalisation, which will continue after the crisis as it enables more SMEs to internationalise in a cheaper and greener way (reduced transaction costs, user network economies, speed, and scalability). Digitalisation and internationalisation go well hand in hand.
Although many analyses and reports mention the negative impact of the coronavirus situation on businesses, one should not forget that the pandemic is at the same time triggering a real surge of new businesses (start-ups). France, Germany, the UK, Japan, the US are all registering a sharp rise in new company registration. Digitalisation is dramatically changing patterns of entrepreneurial opportunity pursuit, value creation, innovation, and internationalisation.
So, because of this digitalization connected with COVID 19, we have opportunities for wider access to participants in our events.
Finally, I see more opportunities than challenges in this situation!
A.C. I am glad to hear that this situation has also a positive and developmental impact on the operation of the Centre. So, where can interested entities find information about current virtual events organized by the Centre?
We also provide other means of communication, for example a regular newsletter or anyone can just contact us by social media: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
A.C. What we found at your website is information about some very compelling and comprehensive online events that could be interesting for Polish small and medium enterprises, for instance: EPA opportunities for EU dairy exporters to Japan, EU meat exporters to Japan, as well as the Japanese biogas market offer for the EU and an online training series about setting-up a business in Japan. Is access to such events available for everyone?
Philippe de Taxis du Poët: Of course, it is availible for everyone. For example, our EPA Helpdesk includes our series of recorded webinars https://www.eu-japan.eu/epa-helpdesk and information about EU business in Japan https://www.eubusinessinjapan.eu/ You just have to register.
A.C. Our interview comes on the second anniversary of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between Japan and the EU entering into the force. This partnership has been described as a new chapter of cooperation between the EU and Japan.
What kind of support does the EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation provide in the field of the EPA? What do SMEs need to know to take full advantage of the opportunities that EPA offers?
Philippe de Taxis du Poët: Regarding the EPA, the first thing that I would like to say is that the Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation has put in place an EPA Helpdesk. Even before the EPA entered into force, we put in place the EPA Helpdesk with the objective of helping inform European SMEs that the EPA is going to enter into force and how to use it.
It is worth highlighting that many SMEs think the fact the EPA has been signed and come into force enables them to have benefits from this agreement automatically, but that’s not correct. Enterprises have things to do. There are procedures and documents that need to be completed and submitted. SMEs must meet conditions and follow particular rules. If SMEs do not know how to proceed, then they will not benefit from the EPA. The Helpdesk supports SMEs and explains how to proceed correctly and in a simplified way. We are explaining to SMEs the long legal text of the agreement, which has almost 400 pages, making it into something that is understandable by a normal entrepreneur who wants to have the information presented in a short, concise and clear manner. That is why we have had to produce a number of what we call fact sheets about 30 different aspects of the EPA, for instance: rules of origin, public procurement, geographical indications, and some specifications needed for particular sectors, like meat, cheese, etc. In addition to these fact sheets which can be found on our website, we organize webinars where we discuss particular aspects of the EPA together with SMEs and experts, also getting their feedback and improving the information and guidance we provide. I must say that all the information provided by the EPA helpdesk is prepared in cooperation with the European Commission’s services and validated by them. The objective of the helpdesk is to provide information that is simplified and concise, but still correct.
A.C. The EPA Helpdesk provides a really valuable support, especially in the perspective of growing cooperation between the EU and Japan. Is an increase of cooperation between the EU and Japan visible already? Where can we find more extensive information about this and trade reports?
Philippe de Taxis du Poët: Yes, there is an increase in cooperation and trade exchange, from Europe to Japan and from Japan to Europe. There is a positive impact that can be measured from both sides. In terms of accurate reports, we, as the Centre, are not responsible for collecting information and reports but this all prepared by the European Commission and the Japanese government as well as reported in other EPA committees dealing with different aspects.
The report looks in more detail at the first year of implementation of the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement and shows that the agreement: (i) boosted bilateral trade in goods by 6% across all sectors compared to 2018, (ii) particularly favoured EU exports in categories with big tariff cuts, such as textiles, clothing and footwear, which grew by 10% on average, and (iii) supported a 16% surge in EU agri-food exports, which make up 12% of total EU exports to Japan.
A.C. Transfer of technology is one of the sectors that the Centre promotes. What, in your opinion, are the new and future-oriented areas of cooperation that can be developed between the EU countries and Japan?
Philippe de Taxis du Poët: That is a very vast topic. Of course, we do not start from scratch, we have worked through this over the last decades, not only as the Centre, but also the EU Delegation to Japan, in terms of cooperation in the field of science and technology. We have years of experience in cooperating in many different sectors such as ICT, biotech, robotics, nanotechnology, circular economy, etc. There are many sectors where the EU and Japan cooperate and will continue to cooperate.
To answer your question, I would say that there are two main priorities for the EU and Japan as well as plenty of room for cooperation in those fields.
The first is transition to a digital economy and the second transition to a green economy.
There are many opportunities for the EU and Japan to come together in these two main sectors and this is also what the Centre is supporting.
A.C. Might fields such as renewable energy and the hydrogen for energy sector and transportation be promising topics in the near future? Is the Centre ready to provide support in those fields? This is currently an important issue for Poland, as the country is interested in Japanese clean coal energy and hydrogen technology.
Philippe de Taxis du Poët: Of course. Renewable energy, hydrogen and the circular economy are the sorts of technologies that give opportunity and space for cooperation between Japanese companies and universities and EU entities. Since September 2020, the EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation has been organising a series of events in the context of the SPIPA project in Japan (SPIPA: Strategic Partnerships for the Implementation of the Paris Agreement; link).
Here I would like to mention the official national contact point in Japan for the EU Research and Innovation programme called Horizon 2020. The next one would be called Horizon Europe. In practice, this means that we are helping European researchers to connect with Japanese Institutions and proper partners to work with. And the other way around. This is an important aspect of our activities in research and innovation.
A.C. How else does the Centre support the EU Japan technology transfer process? Is there any platform or programme which provides support in this field?
Philippe de Taxis du Poët: We have a Technology Transfer Helpdesk http://www.eu-jp-tthelpdesk.eu/ which has been in place for the last four years. We also help small and medium enterprises in Europe to connect with potential business partners in Japan (both with SMEs and large companies). That is one of the objectives of the business matchmaking that we run. We are also a member of a pan-European network which consists of already existing networks such as the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN https://een.ec.europa.eu/). We are also an EEN member in Japan, so we use the EEN network throughout Europe. Another significant network that is increasingly used is the European Cluster Collaboration Platform: https://clustercollaboration.eu/
These platforms are really important tools, because many SMEs and high-tech sectors are hosted within clusters in Europe that are connected by the European Cluster Collaboration Platform. The Centre supports establishing connections between clusters in Europe and their counterparts in Japan. By connecting the clusters in Europe with clusters in Japan we are increasing opportunities to reach out to business partners.
A.C. In terms of the technology sector, Poland has much potential when it comes to ITC, well-educated specialists and promising talents in engineering fields such as robotics, mechatronics, mechanical engineering.
What would be your advice for a promising engineering talent from Poland, interested in pursuing technical exchange programs or opportunities in Japan?
Philippe de Taxis du Poët: The Centre has a people mobility programme called “Vulcanus in Japan” which started in 1997 https://www.eu-japan.eu/events/vulcanus-japan. The programme consists of industrial placements for European students. It starts in September and ends in August of the following year in order to accommodate the academic year in EU Member States. This one-year programme includes a four-month intensive Japanese language course in Japan, followed by an eight-month traineeship in a Japanese company. The students who we have here come from all over the EU countries, including Poland. Every year we have about 20 – 30 young Europeans working in industry in Japan. Even this year, despite COVID 19, we have managed to have some students able to come to Japan before the lockdown in January. Most of them are working in big Japanese corporations, like for instance NTT or NEC. Such programmes give them a great opportunity to gain insider experience of living and working in Japan. For many students this is a boost to their career when they come back to Europe afterwards.
A.C. The prospect of gaining experience by working in Japanese corporations sounds like a valuable opportunity. Is it difficult to become a programme participant?
Philippe de Taxis du Poët: Every year we receive about a thousand applications from all over the EU. We are able to select only 20 – 30 candidates, so the selection rate is very tough. This means that there is a lot of interest and demand from young European students in coming to Japan and working in industry. In practice, what we see is that after working for a year in Japan, young people of course know the technological area, but they also have experience in what it means to live in Japan and they can understand Japanese society. It is very useful to share such knowledge in European companies afterwards. If European company is interested in accessing the Japanese market, then the value of having a participant of this programme in a firm will be considerable.
By the way, we have the same programme (VULCANUS) supporting young Japanese going to Europe and working in European firms. The format is the same: one year working in the European industrial sector. I believe that some companies from Poland might be interested in hosting Japanese students.
A.C. Last but not least, what do Europeans need to learn to build successful business relations with the Japanese? And what is the biggest opportunity for Europeans on the Japanese market?
Philippe de Taxis du Poët: There is always something to learn when you are doing business with another country. Basically, what we always say to entrepreneurs coming to Japan is that the process will take a long time and they need to build a relationship with a Japanese potential partner. So, that is something I would advise, to be patient and well prepared for investing in Japan.
I would like also to draw your attention to a major business trend concerning EU-Japan business cooperation in third markets, e.g. in Asia or Africa. For example, two thirds of German businesses in Japan are involved in projects with Japanese companies outside Japan, especially in ASEAN. Half of the German businesses in Japan generate sales with Japanese companies outside Japan to at least the same extent as in Japan itself. This means that Japan is increasingly considered by European businesses as a hub to reach out other markets, e.g. Asia and Africa. This business cooperation of EU and Japan together on the global scene also opens new doors in terms of e.g. improving the business environment in third countries, promoting norms and standards, fighting climate change, etc. Please see the Centre report on this business trend: link
A.C. Thank you very much for sharing all this important information with us.