Monday, October 18, 2021

Will Business Botswana’s attempt to lure Japanese firms work?

On Thursday last week, the Japanese Business Federation (KEIDANREN) was hosted by Business Botswana (BB), the body representing the wide ranging interests of the local business community. KEIDANREN is a comprehensive economic organisation with a membership comprised of 1,329 representative Japanese companies, 109 nationwide industrial associations and 47 regional economic organisations. The goal of the meeting was for BB, Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) and KEIDANREN to engage with each other and identify ways in which business relationships can be established.

Botswana and Japan are by no means strangers. Their friendship and cooperation is as old as the number of years Botswana has enjoyed independence. However, what seems salient about the Japan-Botswana diplomatic relations is the dire paucity of Japanese business establishments in Botswana despite the two countries coming a very long way in their woven progressive economic and cultural exchanges. One could conclude that the two countries are more familiar with each other on a diplomatic level than they are on a business level.

Japan has contributed immensely to Botswana’s development trajectory as demonstrated by past and ongoing economic projects. This is however not the case with regards to business partnerships. One project that is still fresh in people’s minds is the migration from analogue to digital terrestrial television (TV).

The other widely known economic cooperation project is the construction of Kazangula Bridge which is in part funded by the Official Development Assistance (ODA) loan granted by the Government of Japan. All these project depict the good relationship between two governments, hence reflecting very little of the business relations that exist.

According to information provided by the Embassy of Japan there are only five Japanese companies that have established their presence in Botswana. “While small in number, these companies have been contributing positively to Botswana’s industries. One such company is Komatsu, the Japanese company known worldwide for its high quality heavy machinery. Komatsu trucks are currently being utilised in Jwaneng Diamond mine, the heart of Botswana’s economy,” said the Embassy. It expressed its commitment to continue to publicise Botswana to Japanese companies and facilitate their interactions with partners in Botswana.

Responding to Sunday Standard questions, Second Secretary at the Embassy of Japan Itsuroh Abe highlighted that the previous visits by KEIDANREN can be traced back to 1996 and 2008. Speaking to Sunday Standard, Yukata Kase, the chairman of the Board in one of the Japanese companies, Sojitz corporation, said prior to the visit; he only had minimal information regarding Botswana’s potential. However, following the meeting hosted by Business Botswana, he now has a deeper understanding of the investment opportunities available in the country. He highlighted two things which he says stood out from BITC’s presentation. First is that Botswana is the “gateway of SADC” and the business conditions are characterised by openness. He also said he was able to “directly feel” the peace and security which Botswana is commonly reported to possess, a trait he says will go a long way in attracting investors into the country.

The majority of the Japanese companies which comprised the delegation team have already established long standing business relations with South Africa. This includes companies such as Itochu Corporation, Sojitz Corporation, JGC Corporation and Marubeni Corporation. It now remains to be seen if this third visit will finally convince the Asian business community that Botswana is attractive enough to invest in.

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