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JETRO Okinawa helping to expand trade and investment

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-07-30

As many government officials and members of the business community here on Okinawa put forth plans to increase trade and commerce, there are some individuals trying to figure out simply how to get started.

It is the job of the Japan External Trade Organization, known as JETRO, to help those who are seeking to open companies or import products into Japan. The non-profit organization began in 1957, under the control of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, with their first office opening in Tokyo. Since that time, JETRO has expanded with thirty four domestic offices, including Okinawa, and seventy nine overseas offices located in fifty seven countries around the world. Although their main focus is on trying to increase foreign imports and investment, their task during the late 1950's and 1960's was quite different. Daisuke Arai of JETRO Okinawa explained, "After the war the government realized they needed to export to obtain dollars for buying the natural resources necessary to vitalize their industries. This was their policy and it was JETRO's job to promote Japanese exports. Then during the 1970's, when Japan was running a huge trade surplus, government policy changed and so did JETRO's agenda." JETRO did a complete switch and focused on promoting foreign imports. "Japan also began to invest heavily abroad, because of the high costs of operation domestically. This caused a huge gap in the amount of investment abroad compared to that of investment coming into the country. Now with costs starting to come down, and a more open door policy, we are trying to bring in more foreign investment," said Arai. The need to bring in foreign investment is even stronger today, as Japan's domestic unemployment is on the rise.

Some of the changes in laws to increase trade has included the industries of insurance, banking, and medicine. Many foreign firms have began to take advantage of the new regulations, starting up branch offices and expanding their businesses to include the Japanese market.

Recently, one of JETRO's purposes is to try and develop trade and investment outside of Japan's major cities. There is also more stress on trying to attract small and medium size companies. This policy could help Okinawa, where there is no major manufacturing base. Arai also pointed out that, "Most imports to Okinawa are for domestic use only. The cost of shipping products off of Okinawa is still too high to make it a strategic distribution point." This makes Okinawa a good target for small and medium size exporters, trying to get their products to the local market.

An individual wishing to start importing products into Okinawa can get assistance from JETRO in correct procedures, and obtain valuable market research to help them set up their business. It has many reference materials and listings of exporters from all around the world, which can help point you into the right direction. Friendly and knowledgeable staff can help you with answers to questions concerning customs, taxes, and other important regulations. And, they can give you the correct agencies to contact for more detailed information. There are also free consultations available every Tuesday with a trade consultant.

Because JETRO is a non-profit organization they can not advertise their services, but they are very receptive to all inquiries regarding trade and investment into Japan. They are also a very valuable resource for businesses who are already established, but who would like to branch into different fields or simply would like information on new markets.

The JETRO Okinawa office is located in Naha, just before the Ocean View Hotel on Highway 58. The office is located in the same building as the Naha Chamber of Commerce. Heading north to the airport, look for a statue in front of the building on your right. JETRO is open on weekdays from 9:30 am until 5 pm. It is closed on weekends and on national holidays. For more information or to make an appointment for consultation please call 868-7546.

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