Monday, December 14, 2009

First meeting of the Japan-Arab Economic Forum

The first meeting of the Japan-Arab Economic Forum was held in Tokyo from the evening of December 6th to the 8th. The event was attended by Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, METI Minister Masayuki Naoshima, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, and scores of diplomats and businessmen.

The main objective of the Forum is “to strengthen mutual economic relations between Japan and Arab countries through cooperation in a wide range of fields such as trade, investment, energy, technology, and human resources development.” Media reports highlighted possible Japanese investment in the water development industry. METI Minister Naoshima told reporters, “Arab nations face a chronic problem of water shortages. We will hold intergovernmental dialogues to accelerate and smooth efforts to solve the problem.” The METI minister also pledged further cooperation in the fields of solar-electricity panels and water-desalination systems.

For his part, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa added, “We are looking to develop this Japan-Arab Economic Forum to include all aspects of international cooperation at a time when we are facing the new challenges imposed by globalization and the global financial crisis as well as climate change.”

According to Kyodo News, Japan is the Arab countries’ third-biggest trading partner after the European Union and the United States. The trade volume between the two sides expanded to US$184 billion in 2008 from US$48 billion in 2003, while Japanese investment in Arab states stood at about US$3.1 billion in compared with around US$1 billion in 2004. A Japanese official stated, “The Arab countries have shifted their focus to how to attract investment from advanced and major developing economies like Japan and China after being damaged by the global economic crisis.”

One participant in the Forum told the Shingetsu Institute that Arab states may be beginning to “look east” in their economic policies because economic relations between Arab states and the United States have more or less reached their limit. The rise of China is concentrating Arab minds in the direction of East Asia, and this has certain benefits for Japan as well, should it decide to seize the opportunity.

Michael Penn
APP, Nonresident Senior Fellow
Executive Director, Shingetsu Institute

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