Japan's top executives have made business overtures to Gulf states, saying the Asian giant's technology can help the oil-rich region break its heavy dependence on energy. A 180-strong business delegation is accompanying Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on his first tour of five Arab nations -- Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) -- since he took office in September.
Abe's tour, which began on April 28, came as Japan, the world's second largest economy with virtually no oil or gas reserves of its own, is seeking to boost its visibility in a region vital for its energy security. The business mission, organized by Japan Business Federation, is one of the biggest in history in the company of a Japanese leader traveling overseas.
"Japan is ready to cooperate with the Gulf countries in diversifying their industries," Keidanren Chairman Fujio Mitarai said. Keidanren is one of Japan's most powerful business lobby. "Japan can provide technological cooperation and fostering human resources," said Mitarai, who is also chairman of Canon Corp., adding that his mission had already delivered the message to his business counterparts here.
The oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which groups Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, is Japan's third largest trade partner following the U.S. and China. Total trade between Japan and the GCC nations jumped 25% from the previous year to $111.4 billion in 2006 on the back of a surge in oil prices in recent years.
Japan relies on the Gulf states which Abe will visit for more than 70% of its oil supply, while exports of Japanese cars and machinery to the GCC account for 80% of its total shipments to them.
During the trip, Abe unveiled a proposal of forging a "multi-layered partnership" beyond oil with the region. "I want to open a new era of relations between Japan and the Middle East," he said. "I would like to activate our wide-ranged, strategic dialogue."
Initial moves of Japanese support particularly in the environment have already begun in Kuwait, where Tokyo is helping the Arab state clean up Kuwait Bay.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007