It is a great honour to have taken over as chair of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Japan (CCCJ) by acclamation at our AGM on July 1.
Great respect and appreciation to my predecessor and mentor Neil van Wouw, who led the chamber for the past four years with tremendous effort and action. It is a stronger place thanks to his endeavours. Well done, Neil — I will do my best to keep the lights on.
I would also like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the CCCJ, to welcome our new Canadian Ambassador to Japan, His Excellency Ian McKay. Mr. Ambassador, welcome back to Japan; it’s great to have you here. We look forward to continuing our strong relationship with the team at the Embassy of Canada to Japan and stand ready to support you where we can.
I am excited to be taking up this important role, supporting the strengthening of Canada–Japan commercial relations. Bilateral ties are strong, but there could be much more. Canada is a major food and resource supplier to Japan, and we are gradually getting there in the energy field. The Japanese recognize Canada as a leader in artificial intelligence and other emerging tech areas, while FDI from Japan is among the most favoured global sources of investment, according to a 2016 national survey by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.
As Canada perennially talks about the need to diversify our export destinations, Japan does so regarding its need to diversify its supply sources. That said, bilateral trade numbers, though strong, have remained relatively flat over the past 25 years. With Canada and Japan trusted and reliable partners, focusing more of our attention on Japan will not only strengthen this important relationship, but also provide Canada with increased access to emerging Asian economies via well-established Japanese value chains.
Being Canadian, politeness is a point of pride. I always thought we were world leaders in this regard — then I came to Japan. We share similarities with the Japanese, in that, for example, manners are important to both of us. Long-term, trustworthy relationships are things we both value. Before going into our homes, we both take off our shoes. When Japanese find out about these similarities with Canadians they are surprised and want to engage more. What we need to do is figure out how to increase awareness of our shared traits. We need to become more familiar with one another to drive business forward.
The past 15 years of my professional life have been focused on the Canada–Japan connection, working for both countries’ governments and closely with a broad section of the bilateral business community. I am an ardent believer in our ability to have stronger ties and I think an important step in realizing this is understanding each other better and creating more visibility of existing opportunities. We need to have a more recognizable presence to get the attention of our Japanese hosts and I believe that the chamber has a large role to play in this.
The CCCJ is Canada’s longest-serving chamber in Asia, having been established in 1975. Our mandate is to promote the development of commerce between Canada and Japan. We are a member-funded, member-driven organization with a membership representing those engaged in the bilateral business community. We have an important role here but are only as strong as our membership and voice.
As I commence my term, my request to our CCCJ members and to broader stakeholders in the Canada–Japan sphere is to share any new ideas about more things we can do. How do we develop more recognition of the similarities between our two peoples — the economic complementarities, and the opportunities that exist therein? How do we get Japan to recognize and understand that Canada is more than just beautiful nature and delicious maple syrup? How do we get Canadians to understand that Japan is more than just robots, sushi and stunning sunrise views from the top of Mount Fuji?
Canada and Japan can do better together, and industry has an important role in achieving this. Increased mutual understanding is a very important step towards realizing this. The CCCJ is an organization where you can help out by furthering this cause. I very much encourage you to get involved.