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Interview of Ambassador Ruslan Esin to news agency BELTA

Interview of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Belarus in Japan Dr. Ruslan Esin
BELTA, May 7 — 8, 2018

- Belarus-Japan Economic Forum will be held in Tokyo and Osaka in next few days. How ambitious are the goals of  Belarusian companies and do they have prospects for profitable contracts?
You are absolutely right; various events will be organized during the Belarus-Japan Economic Forum on May 10 — 11, 2018 in Tokyo and Osaka, they will facilitate implementation of the President's instructions on further intensifying of contacts at Japanese direction, attracting investment from Japan to Belarus and an increase in the export of goods and services.
Bilateral trade and economic relations shows that a number of Belarusian enterprises and companies are successfully operating on complicated but premium Japanese market. OJSC “Belarusian Potash Company”, OJSC “Polotsk Steklovolokno”, Orsha Flax Factory, OJSC “Mogotex”, JV “Polesie”, etc. are among them. Leading position in the financial sphere is held by OJSC “Belinvestbank”, which in cooperation with the Japan Credit Bureau (JCB) started the service of JCB card holders in Belarus. In the sphere of services, the best results were achieved by higher educational institutions and tour operators. Students from Japan study at Belarus State University, Minsk Linguistic University and Medical University. The number of Japanese tourists visiting Belarus increased by 16% and exceeded 700 people in 2017.
Among the Belarusian participants of the Forum are representatives of enterprises of heavy and light industry, manufacturers of pharmaceutical, meat, dairy and confectionery, which independently and with assistance of the Embassy of Belarus in Japan successfully cooperate with Japanese companies.
Individual enterprises make their first steps in Japan and it's too early to say about the conclusion of contracts. At the same time, they expect to find new partners within the framework of the Forum.
Holding company Belfarmprom in cooperation with the Ministry of Health of Belarus made a successful presentation of the products of Belarusian pharmacists at the international exhibition CPhI Japan 2018 and now plans to conclude a memorandum of cooperation with the Japanese company Chukan Butsu. Further development of cooperation in the field of public health and pharmaceuticals will be facilitated by the signing of a memorandum of cooperation between the Ministry of Health of Belarus and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare of Japan. These and other documents are planned to be signed during the Forum.
- This is the first time that we hold such a forum with Japan. This format of cooperation becomes relevant only now or it was more difficult to organize such an event earlier?
It has become a good tradition to hold meetings of Belarusian and Japanese business at JETRO, during international exhibitions at Tokyo Big Sight and Makuhari Messe and other venues in Japan. Similar events were held in Belarus.
We managed to achieve the first major bilateral economic event – the Belarus-Japan Economic Forum after presentations of Belarusian scientific, technical, banking and IT technologies, food products in Japan. The Forum will be held in Japanese capital – Tokyo and in economic capital of the country – Osaka.
The Forum became possible through cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, the State Agency for Investments and Privatization, the Mogilev Regional Executive Committee, JETRO, Osaka Prefecture Administration, Belarusian-Japanese Friendship Society and Japan-Russia-Belarus Economic Cooperation Development Association. We expect participation of more than 200 businessmen from two countries, including about 30 from Belarus.
Important feature of this event are bilateral meetings at the ministerial and regional levels, panel discussions, two contact-cooperation exchanges; our delegation will visit several leading Japanese companies and business associations; we will arrange a mini-exhibition of Belarusian goods, a joint photo exhibition “Dialogue Belarus-Japan”, an exhibition of books about Belarus prepared by the Ministry of Information of Belarus, and a concert with participation of Belarusian diaspora in Japan.
It is symbolic that on the first day of visit of the Belarusian delegation in Japan is May 9, 2018, the day of Great Victory. Embassy together with the Belarusian delegation, compatriots and Japanese friends of Belarus will recall the courage and heroism of Belarusians and other peoples in the struggle with fascism.
- Minsk and Tokyo are separated by more than 8 thousand km. How profitable is the Japanese market in view of this distance? Cooperation in which sectors can bring the greatest economic benefits to our country?
Statistics show that long distance is not and obstacle any more in development of trade cooperation between Belarus and Japan thanks to modern telecommunication technologies and transport and logistics opportunities.
Trade between two countries in 2017 achieved 138.8 million USD and increased in comparison to 2016 by 11.7%. Belarusian export increased by 41.4%. Positive dynamics is maintained and in the first quarter of 2018 (45.9% growth).
Belarusian companies managed to sell to Japan not only raw materials, but also microscopes, diagnostic reagents, lasers and devices on liquid crystals, wood products and furniture, electric transformers, children's toys, knitted and textile products, gelatin, etc.
It is obvious that the Japanese market is beneficial for Belarusian enterprises. However, exporters must take into account that in addition to its paying capacity (population — 127 million people, minimum wage per hour is about 10 USD), high quality of products, shipments accuracy and contract compliance are required.
Significant work was carried out in recent years to promote a wide range of Belarusian goods to Japan (cheese, alcohol, cereal flakes, confectionery products, chocolate) and it indicates the interest of the Japanese consumer in this product on the one hand, on the other hand – insufficient efforts of Belarusian companies in direct cooperation with Japanese partners.
At the same time, according to experience of our neighbors in CIS and Westarn Europe, establishing our own distribution network in Japan with the involvement of Japanese personnel makes possible effective promotion of products in Japan. We can find goods from Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, Poland and other countries in the large retail chains of Japan.
Generally, the most of Belarusian goods can be sold in Japan when exporting company establishes a long-term marketing strategy at this market, including high quality control, providing manuals and instructions in Japanese, participation in exhibitions, maintaining active contacts with Japanese partners. The National Center for Marketing of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus can assist our companies in this area.
- Belarus has recently opened Chinese food market. We export dairy and meat products there. Is it possible to put it on shelves of Japanese shops?
Geographical conditions allow Japan to produce only 39% of consumed food, the rest is imported from other countries. Japan imported 2.07 million tons of meat (including beef, pork and poultry), 13 thousand tons of butter and 13 thousand tons of skimmed milk powder in 2017. USA, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Thailand and New Zealand are the main suppliers of products. It is important to note that several Russian companies started supplies of meat and poultry products, flour and macaroni to Japan.
Our country is also opening Japanese food market. We work with Japanese ministries, business associations and large importers of meat and dairy products to create favorable opportunities for entering this market.
National Exposition of the Republic of Belarus at the FOODEX Japan international food and beverage exhibition in March 2016 was really helpful in this direction.
We plan to conduct negotiations between Mogilev meat and dairy enterprises and Japanese companies and reach specific agreements at the Forum. We hope that one of the first consumers will be a restaurant of Belarusian cuisine in Tokyo.
- What are the prospects for deepening of interregional interaction? What specific cooperation projects are planned to be implemented in the near future?
During the last year, The Embassy in cooperation with regional authorities of Belarus conducted significant work to expand bilateral cooperation at the regional level. We established direct working contacts with the governors of the prefectures of Osaka, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Hokkaido, Kanagawa, Akita and the mayors of the capitals of these prefectures. The result is development of contacts of Mogilev region with the Kyushu and Kansai regions, Gomel region with the Tohoku, Grodno region with Hokkaido, Minsk region with Akita prefecture.
Shklov and Takeo towns started cooperation and signed a Memorandum of Cooperation in November 2017 along with sister cities relations of Minsk and Sendai. Mogilev Regional Executive Committee invited the administration of Osaka Prefecture to sign a memorandum of cooperation. The relevant negotiations will be held at the Forum.
Several Japanese cities are interested in establishing cooperation with Belarusian side. In particular, administration of Shiroishi city (Miyagi Prefecture) will negotiate with the leadership of the Shklov District Executive Committee on the margins of the Forum. It should be emphasized that a training camp for the Belarusian team in rhythmic gymnastics began to function initiated by the Shiroishi administration and city assembly.
Regional meeting of the Forum is organized under the support of the administration of Osaka Prefecture and Governor Ichiro Matsui. Hokkaido Governor Hiromi Takahashi and Hakodate Mayor Toshiki Kudo supported the proposal of the Belarusian side to install the bust of the outstanding diplomat, a native of Belarus Iosif Goshkevich in Hakodate.
Representatives of Japanese regions plan to take part in the 10th Anniversary Investment Forum “The Mill of Success” and the folk festival “Alexandria Gathers Friends” in the nearest future.
- Belarus and Japan discussed earlier creation of the Belarusian-Japanese industrial park in the Mogilev region. How it is going now or parties suspended the project? Are any businessmen of both countries interested in such a project?
You know, launching large investment projects such as Japan-Belarus industrial zone in the Mogilev region requires serious preparation. We take into account existing investment and infrastructure projects in Belarus, including the industrial park “Great Stone”, the needs of the economy and demand for manufactured products.
The whole region must be interesting to the investor. Today, a number of large Japanese companies are searching for new production sites in Eastern and Central Europe close to the western part of Russia. That is the reason why the most of speeches and presentations at the Forum will be made by representatives of the Belarusian investment sector, including the FEZ “Mogilev”.
Basic projects in Mogilev could involve production of robotics, automotive and electric vehicle components, elements of the infrastructure for their use, musical instruments, sound and light amplification equipment, motor boats and ships and pharmaceuticals.
This will be the first large-scale presentation of the project in Japan and I hope it will be successful among Japanese businessmen.
- Do you plan to discuss humanitarian cooperation during the forum? What we can offer Japanese partners in this sphere?
The main topic of the Forum is development of bilateral trade, economic and investment cooperation. Participation of Belarusian Health Minister Malashko in this event is because he oversees the development of Belarusian-Japanese relations in a whole at the Government of Belarus.
At the same time, we take this opportunity to discuss with the Japanese partners the issues of humanitarian cooperation, first of all in the field of health and education. I want to note the recent intensification of inter-ministerial contacts and the invitation of the Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare of Japan to the Minister of Health of the Republic of Belarus to pay a visit to Japan. This fact shows mutual interest in further deepening of cooperation in this sphere.
Program of the visit of Minister Malashko, in addition to the meeting with his Japanese counterpart, also includes talks with the leadership of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, members of the National Diet, Osaka and Kanagawa governors, visiting medical institutions and companies. We plan to present 21 volumes of the heritage of Francis Skaryna to the library of the National Diet of Japan., the head of the Belarusian delegation will get acquainted with the latest Japanese achievements in the field of rehabilitation of patients and the organization of the medical process at NTT Kanto Hospital.
Belarusian delegation also includes representatives of Belfarmprom holding company, the State Scientific Oncology and Medical Radiology Centre, Vitebsk State Medical University and Nativita Co., which will hold talks and meetings with Japanese colleagues.
Belarusian compatriots actively assist the Embassy in the preparation to this Forum. They initiated and prepared a concert for the participants of the event. Young artists of the ballet studio “Elena Bare Kyoshitsu” (lead by Elena Lazareva) will demonstrate their creativity. Vocal team “Primavera” of Natalia Vetrova will perform Belarusian songs. A meeting of the delegation with diaspora representatives is an important element of the Forum.
- The Embassy of Japan in Belarus holds annual festival of Japanese culture Japanese Autumn in Belarus in September-November. And how do you introduce Belarus to Japanese citizens? Earlier you told that the Embassy received requests from Belarusians and the Japanese public about organization Days of Belarusian Culture in 2018.
We highly appreciate that our Japanese colleagues are organizing events in Belarus to popularize Japanese culture and traditions. Culture is the bridge that connects our peoples for decades. I remember that after such events Belarusian businessmen and artists started to look for partners in Japan.
I think that Belarus is associated with the masterpieces of Marc Chagall, ballet, biathlon, artistic gymnastics and, of course, the Chernobyl tragedy. Recently the Belarus rhythmic gymnastics national team, led by Irina Leparskaya, showed its skills in prefectures affected by the Great Eastern Earthquake in 2011. Two thousand inhabitants of Shiroishi city welcomed the Flag of the Republic of Belarus and our graces with enthusiasm and stormy ovations in 2017. You can keenly feel the pride for your country in such moments. Belarus is grateful to Japan for its assistance in minimizing the consequences of Chernobyl accident and, reciprocally, helps Japanese regions affected by the earthquake and the accident at the Fukushima-1 NPP.
I am very glad that the Embassy and Belarusian diaspora organize events aimed to popularize Belarusian culture and traditions in Japan. Recently we organized in cooperation with students and teachers of Waseda University a literary evening “Maxim Bagdanovitch. Pages of poet’s life». Belarusian classic poems were declared by students of Tokyo universities studying Belarusian language. Young researcher and a specialist in Belarusian language and culture Ken Shibata translated poems into Japanese.
The Embassy supports the initiative of a group of young Japanese on development of online resource Dialogue Belarus-Japan where Japanese friends of our country will tell about Belarus. This project is intended to increase the number of materials about Belarus in the Japanese language.
The Embassy also helped a group of Japanese enthusiasts to design a kimono with elements of Belarusian ornament and Slutsk belt for the XXXII Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020. By the way, several Japanese companies are interested in cooperation with the Belarusian manufacturer of Slutsk belts and souvenir products from natural materials.
I am pleased to announce the University of Sofia in Tokyo will host a Week of Belarusian Culture on June 4-8, 2018. We plan to hold lectures on the culture and history of Belarus, the performance of vocal and choreographic collectives, an exhibition of books, photographs and souvenirs from Belarus, a demonstration of national costumes, a presentation of the tourist potential and sights of our country during this period.
This event will be a first step for arranging in the near future full-scale Days of Belarusian Culture in Japan. We have already started talks negotiating with the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Belarus, groups and artists.
- Belarus and Japan don’t have a direct flight; this fact probably deters development of cooperation in tourism. Japanese side offered to use the airport of Fukuoka for the organization of flights. Is this issue still under consideration or, perhaps, the parties have already reached agreements? Is there a demand for a direct flight?
Quite right, there is no direct air communication between Belarus and Japan. This affects in a certain extent the development of tourist exchanges and business contacts. However, this is not a serious obstacle to the development of bilateral cooperation.
Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan experience shows a demand for passenger and cargo transportation – these countries have direct flights to Japan. An important element in this work is to conduct PR-campaigns in Japan and to promote Belarusian sightseeing spots in Japanese society.
Generally, the topic of direct communication is very complicated it is necessary not only to reach an agreement between air carriers, airports, tourism organizations, but also to do systematic promotion of tourist, sanatorium and spa facilities of our country in Japan.
We have already done first steps on this way – we organize participation of Belarusian tour operators in tourism exhibitions in Japan, conduct numerous presentations and PR actions in Japanese prefectures, create Internet-resources in Japanese language, gather support group for Belarusian tourist destination in Japan, etc. At the same time, along with negotiations between Belarusian and Japanese airlines, we need to offer quality services for Japanese tourists in Belarus, including disabled tourists.
In this regard, we will use the Forum to search for potential investors for building of a hotel complex with Japanese restaurant, store of Japanese goods and food, as well as for presentation of the tourist routes in Belarus for disabled people.