As the EU and Japan enter an important phase of negotiations for a free-trade deal, the European Commission is trying to lure exporters to tap into the potential of the Japanese market through an executive training programme.
The first round of trade talks between the EU and Japan was held in Brussels last month and was branded a success by the European Commission, although no concrete deal was reached in the numerous sectors which are subject to negotiations, ranging from cars to dairy products.
The next round of talks will be held in Tokyo between 24 and 28 June with a further round envisaged later in the year. Negotiations could last up to three years.
As Japan and much of Europe struggle to recover from years of low growth and even recession, trade liberalisation is considered an important boost to their sluggish economies. Both partners are also considering trade deals with the United States.
The European Commission, which represents EU member states in trade negotiations, aims at revitalising trade with Japan, which is below pre-crisis levels.
Figures from Eurostat published last week show that in the first two months of 2013, EU exports to Japan decreased by 1% compared to the same period in 2012, while imports from Japan dropped by 14%. Turkey is now a more important trading partner for the EU than Japan.
The latest data show that the more pronounced decrease concerns Japanese exports to the EU, while EU exports are increasing in the medium term. The trade balance remains in favour of Tokyo and may widen if efforts by Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to depreciate the yen will be successful in the long term.
As part of a wider plan to support EU export to Japan, Brussels has launched a new edition of a programme meant to train EU companies' executives in Japan. The objective of the Executive Training Programme is to favour EU companies, interested to do business with Japan, to set up or expand activities in the country.
The programme includes 30 weeks of lessons in the Japanese language, history and business culture in a university in Tokyo. At the end of the training, participants have the opportunity to spend three months in a Japanese company of their choice for an internship.
The European Commission funds the programme and covers parts of the living expenses of the participants. Applications for participating to next year’s programme are open until the end of May. Forty-five candidates will be selected.
A similar programme is also running for South Korea, with which the European Union signed a trade deal in 2011. Fifteen places are available for next year’s programmes. The organisers are also considering launching similar ventures in other EU partners over the coming years.
To date, more than 1,000 executives have participated in the training programme in Japan and Korea.