Australia and Japan: A New Economic [and Legal!] Partnership in Asia

Emeritus Professor Peter Drysdale recently presented in Sydney a preview of his now-published consultancy report for Austrade, which urges (p3):
“a paradigm shift in thinking about Australia’s relationship with the Japanese economy. The Japanese market is no longer confined to Japan itself. It is a huge international market generated by the activities of Japanese business and investors, especially via production networks in Asia. It is a market enhanced by the economic cooperation programs of the Japanese government throughout the developing world, particularly in the Asian and Pacific region. And it is a market in which Japanese business now plays an increasingly important role from an Australian base in manufacturing, agriculture and services.”
The Australian Financial Review now confirms that Japan has led China and other Asian investors into Australia over the last year (“What Crisis? Asian Investors rush to our shores”, 24 September 2009). But many probably remain unaware of these facts highlighted by Drysdale’s report (pp 3-4):
“The stock of Japanese investment in Asia amounted to A$ 180 billion out of Japan’s global investment of A$ 772 billion at end-2008. The flow of export and import trade which Japanese business generates in Asia each year was US$ 690 billion in 2008. Procurements through Japanese corporate subsidiaries in Asia amount to A$ 1.2 trillion annually. In addition, Japan spent A$ 11 billion (901 billion yen) in Asia on Overseas Development Assistance programs and procurement through economic cooperation programs. Japanese business has now also established a platform for export to the region from Australia, with diversified investments across food, manufacturing as well as resources, that already delivers A$ 6 billion in Australian sales to Asian markets other than Japan. These are all large new elements in the economic relationship with Japan beyond the A$ 51 billion export trade and A$ 20 billion import trade that Australia already does each year with Japan itself.”
These pervasive economic ties are underpinned by very wide-ranging and stable relations between Australia and Japan at all sorts of levels: governmental, judicial, educational, working holidays, and so on. As pointed out in another recent report “Australia and Japan: Beyond the Mainstream”, by Manuel Panagiotopolous and Andrew Cornell for the Australia Japan Foundation, the GFC has led policy-makers as well as businesspeople to look again more favourably on relationships that combine lower risk with less return, compared to high risk/return ventures.
We can take advantage of these strong and still very profitable Australia-Japan bilateral relationships, as well as the investment and trading links each country (especially Japan) has developed in other parts of Asia particularly since the 1990s, by more actively joining Australian and Japanese partners for ventures throughout Asia. This spreads the risks typically associated with the possibility of higher returns, and also allows each partner to contribute goods or services in which that country has more of a comparative advantage. Thus, for example, Drysdale suggests (p25):
“partnership with Australian services firms in finance, legal services and engineering could be mutual productive. … In FTA talks with Japan the Rudd Government is trying to open the way for professional and financial services firms to set up in Japan, encouraging wider recognition of qualifications and the removal of barriers to obtaining licences in Japan”.
As an example of “legal and consultancy services”, Drysdale mentions that several Australian law firms have long experience in the Asian region, and gives the example of Mallesons Japan. But he concludes that “if we are serious about joining global supply chains and capturing service industry opportunities in Asia then Australian firms need to be there on the ground to capture the business”.

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Alcohol deregulation in Japan: Vending machines and FTA-compliant taxes

[Originally posted, with full hyperlinks and various Comments, at http://eastasiaforum.org/author/lukenottage/]
Japan appeared finally to have recovered from its own financial crisis a decade ago, albeit at the cost of much accumulated government debt. But now the country has been hit by the collapse of its export markets and the rapid rise of the yen, following recession in the US and increasingly world-wide. Professor Iwao Nakatani, former Chairman of Sony, urges a radical shift in economic policy in Japan and elsewhere – from policy ‘based on neo-conservative economics and the philosophy of small government to one based on Keynesianism and welfare state ideology’.
Some may remain sceptical that Japan ever really embraced the former philosophy, and its ascendancy was certainly never as pronounced as in the US, the UK or then Australia – where market liberalisation tended to be linked closely to race politics (Mark Davis, The Land of Plenty, MUP 2008). But deregulation of alcohol distribution is one of Japan’s many transformations over the last decade. It is also the flipside of ever-stricter rules on drink driving, although they also reflect a broader trend towards criminalisation of socio-economic deviance (evident eg in product safety or consumer credit re-regulation).
On the other hand, deregulation is most notable in terms of where you can buy alcohol to celebrate this New Year of the Ox, namely vending machines and those ubiquitous convenience stores. It is less notable in what you pay especially for certain beer-substitutes, which mainly reflects differential tax rates. In fact, such rates may well violate WTO law. Yet there is probably not enough financial reward for potential beer exporters to encourage their home governments to sue Japan. So an implication may be for FTA negotiators (even those now from Australia) to seek some offsetting advantage in their overall bilateral deal with Japan. Yet that would further undermine the entire multilateral WTO framework.

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Economics, Politics, Public Policy and Law in Japan and the Asia Pacific in 2008

All my blogs over July-October 2008, posted originally with full hyperlinks at http://eastasiaforum.org/author/lukenottage/], have been edited and updated as:
Nottage, Luke R., ‘Economics, Politics, Public Policy and Law in Japan, Australasia and the Pacific: Corporate Governance, Financial Crisis, and Consumer Product Safety in 2008’ (November 3, 2008) Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 08/134, Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1295064 (and forthcoming, early 2009, in Ritsumeikan Law Review)
Some of the individual topics focused more directly on Japanese Law, asterisked below, are also available on this USydney blog:
* 1. Taking the Australia-Japan FTA negotiations to new levels
* 2. Whaling: What can law add to science, economics, ethics and politics?
3. Australia also should ‘Rail at Australian’s Tabloid Trash’ about Japan
* 4. Consumer over-indebtedness in Japan, Australia and the US
* 5. Dodgy foods and Chinese dumplings in Japan
* 6. FDI and corporate governance in Japan
* 7. Investor-state arbitration for Indonesia, Australia and Japan
8. Rivals: China, India and Japan – economic, not Olympic?
* 9. The politics of Japan’s new Takeovers Guidelines
* 10. Tables turned in Japanese and US financial markets
* 11. Lessons from Japan for the US financial crisis
* 12. The financial crisis – and loansharks in Japan and NZ
* 13. Consequences of melamine-laced milk for China, NZ, Japan and beyond
14. Political dynasties in Japan, the US, Australia … but not NZ?
* 15. A New Consumer Agency for Japan?

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Taking the Australia-Japan FTA negotiations to new levels

[Originally posted, with full hyperlinks, at http://eastasiaforum.org/author/lukenottage/]
As we know from postings to the East Asia Forum, especially by Peter Drysdale, Hadi Soesastro and Hugh White, it was not clear what Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had in mind when, on 4 June before his first trip to Japan, he proposed a better regional architecture for the Asia Pacific region. Views differ even further about whether such reforms are politically feasible.
Some, particularly in the mainstream media, interpreted him as proposing some European Union-like institutions for the Asia-Pacific. The analogy is not necessarily a bad one, and it’s time to take this idea more seriously. After all, the EU has emerged from small beginnings back in 1958, and is itself still a work-in-progress. Yet regional arrangements have many advantages. They can generate more transparency and public participation, and hence legitimacy, than multilateral systems. They can also minimise parochial impulses often found in national and even bilateral approaches. Such impulses may also threaten the free-trade agreement (FTA) being negotiated between Australia and Japan.

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