International affairs

Australia and Japan: an important relationship

Despite the rise of China, Australia cannot afford to forget its relationship with Japan a CEDA forum in Melbourne has heard. 

Despite the rise of China, Australia cannot afford to forget its relationship with Japan a CEDA forum in Melbourne has heard.

Australia and Japan have an enduring relationship that has recently slipped from the headlines, while others like China and India have gained political prominence.

Common themes from all speakers included the history and maturity of the Australia/Japan relationship, its importance into the future, Japan's current status as second largest exporter for Australia, the effects of the earthquake and a bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

A key message of the forum was though China and India have become key partners in trade, Japan still remains important, and this relationship must not be forgotten or taken for granted by Australia.

Event Chair, Vincent Dwyer from Norton Rose Australia said that Japan's investment and involvement in energy, infrastructure and "offshore investments are significant and will continue to be significant" into the future.

Austrade, Chief Economist, Tim Harcourt talked of the past, present and future of Australia and Japan's economic relationship.

Australia had gone from a protected, isolated economy with high unemployment; double digit inflation 30 years ago to the strong economy it is today, Mr Harcourt said. This is through reforms, Australian exporters holding the line when the export value dropped in 2008 and partly from geographic location.

"But we could not have positioned ourselves for the growth we've had without Japan," said Mr Harcourt.

Though Australia is often described as the lucky country "there's one important thing about luck," Mr Harcourt said "when you get lucky, you don't do it yourself. One reason why Australia has been able to take on this momentum of reform is because we've had very good friends. And probably our best friend has been Japan".

Australia's relationship with Japan took true form in 1957, just 12 years after WWII, with a cooperative agreement, enabling Australia to forge ahead in Asia.

"What Japan did was essentially gave Australia a chance to engage in the Asia-Pacific," he said.

From here it took Japan only a year to become our key export destination, a position they held until just recently when they were surpassed by China.

During the active Q&A session the audience raised questions about Japanese debt, tertiary education, FTA timing and possible diversified investments by Japan into industries such as construction.

Topical with current economic issues, one question raised was why Japan's significant debt levels are less of a concern than European debts.

Speakers and audience members commented on Japan's homogeneous state, fiscal union, conservative spending and different debt type than Europe; the majority of Japanese debt is domestic, not foreign.

However, Consulate General of Japan, Consul-General of Japan, Hidenobu Sobashima did state that the debt issue is not unseen by Japan and is something they are looking at.

Other speakers included:

  • Consulate General of Japan, Consul-General of Japan, Hidenobu Sobashima
  • Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Former Australian Ambassador to Japan, Murray McLean
  • Mitsubishi Australia Limited, Deputy Managing Director and CFO, Ryuhei Arimoto
  • The Bank of Tojyo-Mitsubishi, UFJ Ltd, Head of Corporate & Project Finance, Eugene Ong

To hear the event audio from Tim Harcourt, other speakers and the Q&A click here.
To read Tim's article, click here.