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David Warren

Ambassador to Japan, Tokyo
Posted 22 June 2010 by David Warren | Comments

I was very sorry to read in last week's "Economist" magazine of the death of Norman Macrae, who was its deputy editor for many years. 

Norman Macrae was the first journalist to recognise the growing economic importance of Japan in the 1960s.  His seminal essay "Consider Japan" (which can be read in the Norman Macrae archive) was published in September 1962, is a fascinating and powerful analysis of the Japanese economy at that time, and was an important corrective to those who still thought just in terms of Japan as a poor, developing country producing cheap counterfeit goods.  The "Economist" obituary gives many other examples of Macrae's prescience and far-sightedness. 
 
The sudden jolt of recognition that Japan was about to become - as it had in the late 19th Century after the Meiji Restoration - an industrial giant (two years after "Consider Japan" the world woke up to Japan's success with the Tokyo Olympics) led directly to the British Government's trade promotion activities that I listed in my last article on the blog, the setting up in the early 1970s of the Exports to Japan Unit in the then Department of Trade, and the emphasis in this Embassy's work on trade and investment links with Japan, that lasts to this day.
 
Do read the "Economist"'s obituary of Norman Macrae - it is a tribute to a massively influential thinker, whose impact is still felt today in the work we do here in Tokyo.



David Warren
22 June 2010
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Posted 18 June 2010 by David Warren | Comments

Fascinating "On This Day" article for yesterday on the BBC website about the first purpose-built (and floating) Japanese trade fair in London in 1964.
 
"The exhibition was intended to show that Britain had more to export than whisky and woollens".   I still have to remind people that, while Scotch whisky is a wonderful export, it represents a very, very small proportion of overall British exports to Japan.   We now sell over £8billion worth of goods and services to Japan every year - nearly everything from helicopters, through gas turbines to pharmaceuticals, scientific equipment and food and drink.  British retailers are in Japanese high streets, British food and drink in the department stores.   British music is popular too.  
 
We now have over 1400 Japanese companies investing in the UK, employing over 100,000 people.    The three big automobile producers, Toyota, Nissan and Honda, make half the cars produced in the UK every year.  The slowdown in growth to which the BBC article refers hasn't actually held Japanese investment back - we had a strong year in 2009. But we can never take anything for granted.  It is a tough investment market in Europe, and we have to go on competing for that next factory, R and D centre, or sales headquarters to be placed in the UK rather than somewhere else in Europe. 
 
As the article says, Britain was slow to get a foothold in the years immediately after World War Two.   But Japanese trade promotion missions like the one described in this article - which I remember dealing with when I was first working in the British Embassy in the late 1970s - did a lot to raise the profile.   And the export promotion campaigns we used to run helped too.   Now, at a time, when companies are understandably focused on faster-growing Asian markets, we shouldn't forget the continuing importance of Japan.   As we used to say when we ran the "Action Japan" campaign referred to here ten years ago - "The Japanese are among the most demanding, but also the most reliable, business partners in the world.  British companies that sell successfully in Japan - and thousands do every year - can sell anywhere."

See the UK Trade and Investment Japan page for more promotional events coming up.



David Warren
18 June 2010
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Posted 07 June 2010 by David Warren | Comments

We had a marvellous visit a few days ago from Alistair and Katherine Wight, from Edinburgh.   Alistair was one of eight British sailors who came to Tokyo in August 1945, as part of HMS Return, and who reopened the British Embassy, which had been closed since the British staff had been repatriated to the United Kingdom in mid-1942, some months after the outbreak of war with Japan. 

Mr WightHe is now 86, as is Katherine, and had not been back to Tokyo since his brief visit in 1945.   I was fascinated by his recollections of Tokyo in the aftermath of war - the department stores still open in the Ginza, with staff giving items away in panic, the trams still running past the Embassy's front door in spite of the terrible bomb damage across much of the city, the natural reluctance of local Japanese to fraternise with foreign troops, and of course deep suspicion on the Allied side after the brutalities of the Imperial Army in the Asian conflict - but also the kindness that Alistair and his colleagues received from some of the Japanese residents of Tokyo whom they met.
 
Alistair and Katherine's trip was partly to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary.   It was funded by the UK Lottery's Heroes Return programme .   Alistair showed us a photograph of himself at 21, in the garden of one of the Embassy houses, sitting on the veranda steps that are still there today.  We went and recreated the photograph 65 years later.   Alistair and Katherine presented us with the cap ribbon from HMS Return.   It was moving and inspiring to listen to his memories.



David Warren
07 June 2010

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Posted 05 March 2010 by David Warren | Comments
It's been a while since I last updated my blog, but with a new IT system just installed at the Embassy I will be online and updating more regularly
 
Lunch with Japanese businessmen on Wednesday, and later dinner with a group of visiting British journalists.  The common theme is how depressed everybody seems in Japan.   Why? 
 
At lunch, we talk about the state of the Japanese economy.   The problem is deflation.   Fuelled by government spending and the strength of the Chinese export market, the Japanese economy is beginning to grow again.  Unemployment is down to under 5%, industrial production is up (11 straight months), consumer spending beginning to look up (a bit).  But wages are flat and prices are flatter.    The new Government is running into rougher political water, as many new Governments do after the electoral honeymoon wears off.    And there are the long term demographic problems - an aging and shrinking population, the flight from the regions to the big cities, older Japanese worrying about the alleged reluctance of the younger generation to travel, study abroad, and so on.
 
So I can see why people are worried.     But whenever I visit companies, I see evidence of real investment.  A month ago, I went to see Green Front Sakai, Sharp's new 10th generation LCD and thin-film solar plant in Osaka.  An amazing complex (check it out on YouTube), and a real statement of confidence in renewables technology.   There are no shortage of Japanese businessmen coming to our commercial events in the Embassy to pursue partnership with British firms.    And Japan remains a centre of real innovation and creativity.
 
I understand the gloom.   It's the sense that there's absolutely nothing that can be done about it that puzzles me.   Am I missing something?

David Warren
05 March 2010
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Posted 18 February 2009 by David Warren | Comments

I am delighted to become one of the FCO's bloggers.  I'll be posting reports and comments in English and Japanese about the work we are doing in Japan to build an even closer relationship with the world's second largest economic power.

This week, the focus has been on science and innovation.   The British Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, John Beddington has been visiting with a large team from the UK Research Councils.  He saw Japanese scientists and scientific facilities in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.  He also had a day's conference with his opposite numbers in the Japanese Government to take stock of the collaboration that is going on and identify new areas in which we can do more.

Of course, climate change and management of natural resources are high on the list.  John is a specialist in the latter area and on Thursday night, he made a powerful speech in the Embassy about the challenge facing the world.  We need 50% more food, 50% more energy resources and 30% more water by 2050 to meet the needs of a population that will grow to 9 billion - that's equivalent to adding another country the size of Japan to the world every two years.  

The Japanese audience - journalists, scientists, MPs - listen closely and ask some penetrating questions.  What about GM crops: are they publicly acceptable?   What about population control, ditto?  The Q and A session belies the traditional stereotype of Japanese public meetings being formal, slightly bland affairs.  The tone is friendly but the questions are probing.   The hour that John spent beforehand at a "science media cafe" in the Embassy with a dozen science editors and journalists will have helped.

Japan accounts for nearly 25% of the world's spending on R and D, with just 2% of the world's population.   And there is no evidence that the world economic slowdown, for all that the effects in Japan have been severe, is going to reduce that priority. How to help UK scientists and engineers be part of this activity is a major challenge for us.

Meanwhile, that same night, the news is breaking that the Agility consortium, which is led by Hitachi, have been named as preferred bidder for the new UK Inter-City train contract.   This will be an important new investment from Japan into the UK.  The Super Express will be longer and lighter than its counterparts, and greener as well - some will operate as bi-mode (diesel and electric).    But I'm struck by some of the negative comment in the UK the following day.   

There's a sense that Japanese involvement in this project is somehow unpatriotic, despite the jobs that will be created, or safeguarded, in the UK.   The reality is that Hitachi is one of over 1400 Japanese firms who have invested heavily in the UK over the last thirty years - some going back even further than that - and the close industrial and business links that have grown as a result between all parts of the United Kingdom and Japan have been a real success story.  We mustn't let the sort of protectionist sentiments that find a voice at a time of economic crisis threaten that.  And remember, the UK sells £8 billion worth of goods and services to Japan every year as well.  Trade and investment links are win-win.



David Warren
18 February 2009

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