Yasushi Takase
Embassy of Japan in Mexico
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Digitalization: The future of Japan-Mexico Bilateral Relations

By Alessa Flores | Tue, 11/24/2020 - 09:10

Q: What are the challenges and opportunities for Japanese companies in the face of the COVID-19 crisis in Mexico and what is the Japanese Embassy’s role in this regard?

A: Many Japanese companies, especially those in the automotive industry, are facing great difficulties as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most restarted their production in June, while implementing stern sanitary measures to prevent infection among their employees . However, the demand for their products remains weak and they are making strenuous efforts to maintain their workforce.

The embassy, together with the representatives of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Mexico, are talking with the Mexican federal and state governments and sometimes with Mexican legislators to let them understand that we believe that the early recovery of the Mexican economy is important. We are asking them to take appropriate measures to help alleviate the difficulties faced by Japanese companies. We believe that urgent administrative procedures, including the swift repayment of VAT, can be of help to Japanese businesses.

It is obvious that society and businesses in the new normal will need further digitalization. After an initiative of Japan, TPP member countries agreed to pursue concrete means to promote digitalization in their economies. This will be one of the opportunity areas for Japanese and Mexican businesses in the post-pandemic world.

Q: Japan is conducting technical cooperation projects with Mexico in the automotive sector to help improve the industrial base and support industry. How have the projects progressed? 

A: The government of Japan, through its International Cooperation Agency (JICA), is implementing two technical cooperation projects in Mexico to strengthen support for the automotive industry, mainly in the Bajio region. 

The first project started in 2015. Japanese experts first established an educational Automotive Industry Courses program at 4 pilot schools under the National College of Professional Technology Education (CONALEP). These experts created the curriculum and transferred technology to CONALEP’s instructors, strengthening cooperation with local auto parts suppliers. To date, a total of 507 students have graduated in the three target states: Aguascalientes, Guanajuato and Queretaro. 

The project itself will come to an end in December 2020. However, CONALEP is expected to continue the program, improving the curriculum by taking into consideration of the needs of auto parts suppliers. It is further expected to extend the courses to other schools beyond the original 4 pilot schools.

The second initiative is a five-year project started in 2018 in collaboration with the governments and the automotive clusters of 4 target states: Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Queretaro and San Luis Potosi. Through the project, a database of Mexican auto parts suppliers was created, several business meetings between Japanese and Mexican companies were held, dozens of Mexican companies received Kaizen programs and several seminars covering a variety of topics were also held. With this project, I expect the participation of the Mexican auto parts suppliers in the Japanese automobile value chain will be further promoted.

Q: Japan is the third-most important destination for Mexican agri-food exports, after the US and Canada. What agricultural cooperation is promoted between Japan and Mexico? 

A: Mexico exports a wide range of agri-food products to Japan, such as beef, pork meat, mangos, avocados, vegetables, fish, seafood, tequila and beer. Ninety percent of imported avocados in Japan come from Mexico and Mexican mangos hold about 46 percent of the Japanese import market. 

A little more marketing would help Mexican businesses succeed in the Japanese agri-food market. For example, Japanese consumers are very keen on food safety. Also, it is important to maintain a stable supply of products. To name a few examples, Sukarne Group and its beef exports and Keken Exporters Association with pork meat are among the Mexican companies that have succeeded in the Japanese market. Sukarne established a tracing system for its products to ensure their safety and, in the case of Keken, it does the processing and packaging before it exports. The two companies have followed their success in Japan with success in other Asian markets.

Every year, Japan hosts the biggest agri-food trade fair in Asia, called “Foodex.” I understand the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture together with the Ministry of Economy will set up a booth at Foodex next year and inviting Mexican companies to participate. It will be a very good opportunity to further enhance Mexican agri-food exports to Japan and to Asia as well.

Q: In 2014, Kanagawa and Aguascalientes made a twinning agreement to publish a book with detailed information on the state of Aguascalientes to attract investment. What was the result?

A: Since the memorandum of understanding was signed between Kanagawa Prefecture and Aguascalientes in 2014, both governors have been paying mutual visits. In addition to these visits, investment from the Japanese automotive industry in Aguascalientes has seen a steady increase and many business seminars and academic exchanges have been held. At the state level, there are some other friendship agreements between Mexico and Japan, such as the agreements between Saitama Prefecture and State of Mexico (1979), Wakayama Prefecture and Sinaloa (1996), and Hiroshima Prefecture and Guanajuato (2014). At the city level, this year, Guadalajara and Kyoto are celebrating the 40th anniversary of their sister-city relationship. In recent years, the number of Japanese companies and residents in Mexico has been increasing and it is expected that the relationship between the two countries will be further strengthened and exchanges at the state level will become even more active in the future.

Q: What are some of the projects or initiatives from the Embassy of Japan to promote bilateral relations with Mexico in the coming years?

A: Next year, 2021, Japan will host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. These were postponed this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The organizing committee is working very hard to realize the event so that all of us in the world will be able to say that we have overcome the pandemic. Making use of this opportunity, the Japanese government is trying to show the world the attractive aspects of Japan: its culture, nature, gastronomy and advanced technologies.

In Mexico, we are also sharing these enchanting aspects of our country with the Mexican people. For example, we are promoting Japanese food together with Japanese Sake. Although Japanese cuisine is already booming in Mexico, last year, we appointed a goodwill ambassador for Japanese food and will hold promotional events so that the Mexican people will be able to get to know the variety and profundity of Japanese gastronomy. Once the pandemic is over, we would like to promote tourism from Mexico to Japan so the Mexican people can experience the attractiveness of Japan. Japan is scheduled to establish a new Japan National Tourism Organization Office (JNTO) in Mexico by March next year. We are also promoting advanced Japanese technologies together with the so-called “High Quality Infrastructure.” Building smart cities that incorporate digitalization, high-tech security systems and smart trains and mobility options will greatly benefit the Mexican people.

Q: Is there anything you would like to emphasize about bilateral relations between Mexico and Japan for businesses and local governments?

A: In Mexico, many Japanese organizations, as well as the embassy and the consulate general in Leon, promote bilateral relations between the two countries: JETRO (Japan External Trade Organization) promotes trade and investment, JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) provides technical cooperation and JBIC (Japan Bank for International Cooperation) implements various financing projects. JNTO is planning to promote Latin American tourism to Japan. In addition, the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Mexico, or CAMARA, is very active in enhancing business activities in Mexico. In order to strengthen economic relations with Japan, please do not hesitate to contact us and these organizations.

Photo by:   Yasushi Takase
Alessa Flores Alessa Flores Senior Journalist and Industry Analyst