The Malta Independent 18 November 2018, Sunday

Have you ever even thought of Japan?

Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi Thursday, 6 September 2018, 08:07 Last update: about 3 months ago

What do Malta and Japan have in common? Sounds like a riddle. In fact in between the 10,000km distance and continents apart there is so much that Malta and Japan can find in common.

Accompanying Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on the first official visit by a Maltese Prime Minister to Japan in 28 years was indeed a privilege. It was also a big learning experience and our discussions at political level delved into issues of mutual interest, which are surprisingly aplenty, given the economic disparity and geographic distance between the two island nations.

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Firstly, Japan is an island surrounded by sea. It was of little surprise that a lot of our discussions were about maritime issues, and particularly Oceans Governance, which should concern everyone around the globe. There is ample space for collaboration in launching new international law initiatives with a view to strengthening of maritime governance. The strengthening of safeguarding the seas was the matter on which Malta subscribed to a memorandum of understanding with Nippon Foundation, represented by its Chairman Yohei Sasakawa. This initiative will have a long-term positive effect and build on the previous initiatives undertaken by Malta over the years as a global catalyst regarding the law of the seas and maritime affairs.

The Prime Minister was not only leading a political delegation, but also a trade mission made up of over 30 local businesses seeking to expand, export or import their service or product to Japan. Few people know that business with Japan is thriving, and Malta has a trade surplus with this thriving Asian nation. The visit also happened a few weeks after the European Union and Japan entered into a free trade agreement. This effectively dismantles trade barriers such as tariffs and is expected to accelerate the generation of business between the two sides, especially with regards to European exports to Japan, and Japanese investment in the EU.

The EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement was an important item on the agenda during the meeting held between the Maltese Delegation led by Prime Minister Muscat with his counterpart Prime Minister Abe, whose sound economic policies, dubbed as Abeconomics, steered the country away from a protracted recession. It is worth noting that even though a number of the world’s largest corporations are Japanese, the country’s economic growth was driven by a buoyant SME sector.

As stated early, Malta holds a trade surplus vis-à-vis Japan, mainly due to tuna exportation. To this end, the Maltese Delegation had the opportunity to the wholesale fish market in Tokyo were tuna caught by Maltese fishermen is auctioned off. It was reiterated to aquaculture operators who were part of the Maltese Delegation, that government will not tolerate any infractions in the sector that may jeopardise the coastal wholesomeness of Malta. There are also other opportunity to export local produce to Japan and we discussed the opportunity to export pork in the same way that tuna is sold to the Japanese market.

The Maltese Delegation had a very fruitful meeting with the Mitsui & Co., one of the largest corporations in the world, which was very much interested in exploring the possibility of installing marine wind turbines. This has long been considered by Malta, however, it lacks the technology to install such turbines in deeper sea areas. The collaboration between Malta and Mitsui might very well fill this gap and allow the country to strengthen its resolve in increasing its clean energy sources.

Malta is also on Japan’s radar due to the recent cutting-edge laws we have enacted for the regulation of blockchain. There is huge interest by Japanese businesses to set up shop in Malta particularly in the areas of ICOs and other blockchain related activity.

The lively interest which this technological area elicited in our Japanese hosts was striking. Particularly because Japan is a world leader when it comes to engineering and technological innovation. In this vein we were also treated with a tour in the magical Borderless Museum which is one of the most innovative museums displaying unique exhibitions of digital and virtual reality arts.

If you always thought of Japan as that beautiful country on the other side of the globe where we have no or little connection, maybe it’s time to think again. The vigour and energy injected by the Prime Minister and the Maltese who last month were in Japan has really shaken things up. Japan is a real destination for Maltese business just as Malta is a great place for Japanese to invest. There is a lot of room for potential and this can only happen through the political drive of the two nations. I am committed to help the Prime Minister in keeping the political momentum for continued and strengthened Maltese and Japanese relations while seeking to push Maltese investors to invest further in Japan while pushing for more Japanese investment in Malta.

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