Keynote Statement by Ambassador KITANO Mitsuru ‘Boosting Economic Relations between Japan and Ireland in 2020: Opportunities and Challenges’

Friends and colleagues from both Ireland and Japan,

Happy New Year.

It is a great pleasure for me to start this year with this discussion, titled ‘Boosting Economic Relationship between Japan and Ireland in 2020: Opportunities and Challenges’.

In doing so, I am delighted to have the presence of Ambassador Paul Kavanagh, taking advantage of his stay in Dublin. This is the week when the Heads of Mission Conference was held by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I was delighted to be invited to Monday’s session along with other colleague Ambassadors. This was the first time Ambassadors of other countries were invited to this conference. Secretary General Niall Burgess explained this decision by saying that when Irish Ambassadors work closely with the host country’s Ambassadors in Ireland, it makes a powerful force for promoting bilateral relations. I fully agree with him. From that perspective, I am happy for the presence of my dear friend Paul for our discussions today.

I would like to thank Mr. Alan Dukes and Mr. Martin Murray of Asia Matters for partnering with us to organise this event. Asia Matters is a fantastic organisation that promotes the relationship between Ireland and Asian counties. I gladly support the entirety of their work in this, but to be frank, I particularly appreciate their readiness to push forward the aspect of Japan Matters.

Now, allow me to share with you my vision for the relationship between Japan and Ireland. Since it is now the beginning of the year and also the beginning of a decade, we witness a lot of discussion on outlook and forecast. What is to come in 2020, and this decade? Generally we hear a lot of sources of concern and preoccupation, such as Brexit, trade tensions, global warming, deterioration of international security situation, to name a few. However, when it comes to relationships between Japan and Ireland, I am delighted to say what we can expect a positive and promising outlook. Let me elaborate on why I think so.

Firstly, our bilateral relationship is a comprehensive and solid one. We have strong economic bonds. At the same time, we also have a strong alignment of political values and our ties in people-to-people exchanges are booming. Looking at current world situation, it seems that the world is becoming more fragile, unpredictable and threatened unfortunately. Given this environment, both of our countries need to build strong ties with partners that share common values such as freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. We have good reason to collaborate with each other.

Secondly, economy is a key area and our relationship is complementary of each other. Ireland is a vibrant economy while Japan is a big economy. Ireland needs an economic partner in trade and investment, while Japan needs a partner with which we can create dynamism. One great news in 2019 was that the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement came into force. We can expect it will bear fruit in many areas in our two-way trade in the near future. In addition, Ireland’s export industries have been trying hard to diversify export markets against the backdrop of Brexit. Japan is capable to be a key gateway to the Asia Pacific region for Irish products and services. Japan’s domestic market is very large and high-tech oriented. Stability of Japanese economy in recent years is also considered as a strong point.

In terms of investment, Japan is the largest source country of FDI into Ireland from Asia. Japan is one of the countries who started to invest to Ireland as early as 1950s. Recently, despite various developments and turbulent elements including Brexit, Japanese companies have continued to play an active role in Irish economy, particularly in such areas as pharmaceuticals and aircraft leasing. I also would like to mention about recent success in Irish companies’ FDI into Japan, especially in information and communication technology. As I mentioned earlier, our two countries enjoy comprehensive and solid bilateral relations based on common basic values. I suppose this provides a good basis for stable and long-term commitment to each other.

In the digital world of the twenty-first Century, small companies have greater freedom to expand their business globally. I would like to highlight Japan’s strong interest in the importance of start-up businesses. Since this is an area where Ireland has strength, I hope much can be done.

Thirdly, we also have a good prospect in our people-to-people exchanges. Over recent years, the number of Irish people travelling to Japan has increased, reaching 20,000 in 2018. As for 2019, I presume the number might have hit a record of 40,000 due to the Rugby World Cup. From Japan, there has been a significant increase in demand for the working holiday program. For years, the number of applicants has exceeded the number of visa issuances designated by both Ireland and Japan. I’m happy to share with you that both Governments decided to raise the maximum number of visa issuances from 400 to 800 at the end of last year. Talking about human exchange program, we also have the JET programme as an important scheme for that.

Ireland is one of the countries where the strongest demand for Japanese language learning exists among European countries. Meanwhile, from Japan’s perspective, Ireland is becoming a popular destination for those who would like to study English abroad. In addition to these strong links, I can also add the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic games as important occasions for Irish people travelling to Japan this year.

Thus, as I have outlined, I have all the reason to be positive in thinking the future vision of the relationship between our two countries. Yesterday, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade launched a new policy strategy “Global Ireland: Delivering in the Asia Pacific Region to 2025.” I welcome this new initiative. I suppose all the points I made now fit nicely to this new policy document.

Looking back, it was in 2013 that the heads of our two Governments, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Prime Minister ABE Shinzo formulated a joint declaration to lay out the future vision of relationship between Japan and Ireland at that time. This was seven years ago, and I suppose it is high time for us to think about the next declaration and vision planning. I don’t have a clear idea when and how this will take place, but my wish is to bring those positive elements I mentioned into a new document to be worked out between the two governments.

I am thankful that today we have the presence of those who are actively engaged in deepening and broadening the economic relationship between our two countries. I wish to enrich further our vision of co-operation through discussion tonight with a view to capitalise fully its potential.
Thank you very much for your kind attention.