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Opening remarks by Chairman and CEO Hiroyuki Ishige for the JETRO 60th Anniversary Symposium

November 2018

Your Excellency Roberto Azevedo, Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO),
Ambassador Charlene Barshefsky, former United States Trade Representative,
The Honorable Akira Amari, Member of the House of Representatives, and former Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy,
Mr. Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, Chairman of Japan Association of Corporate Executives,
and ladies and gentlemen,

I am Hiroyuki Ishige, Chairman and CEO of Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO). Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedules to participate in today's symposium.

Our organization JETRO was launched as a government-affiliated corporation in 1958, just 10 years after the launch of GATT under the Bretton Woods system after WWII. Over these 60 years, the values of both Japan’s imports and exports have increased more than 200 fold. The history of JETRO overlaps that of the country's trade expansion; our organization has been present all along in the maintenance and development of Japan's free trade system after the war.

On this note, the "E" in JETRO stood for "Export" at the beginning, but now stands for "External." Changing its function in accordance with changes in the era, JETRO has expanded its mission beyond the mere promotion of exports, and today draws investment from overseas and assists Japanese SMEs in expanding business abroad. We also remain devoted to promoting the exports of agricultural, forestry and fishery products. The significance of the "E" has changed, but the name JETRO remains the same.

This year saw epoch-making events for Japanese trade policy. When the US announced last January that it would leave the TPP, everyone in the world thought that the accord was dead. What saved it was Japan’s leadership. On December 30, it will enter into force as the TPP-11. Japan has also finished negotiations on its EPA with the EU, and the agreement has been signed. Meanwhile, the aim of RCEP is to reach a substantive agreement within the year. It is a great pleasure and honor for us to be able to host this commemorative symposium, celebrating 60 years of JETRO, in such a breakthrough year.

With that said, today we also face the greatest challenges we have experienced since the establishment of GATT and the WTO. Developments hampering free trade have come to the surface, such the trade war between the world’s first and second largest economic powers, the US and China, and the rise of protectionist sentiment. These developments are hindering business predictability and legal stability as well as having a negative impact on the overseas business of companies.

And the impact of the trade war does not end with the parties involved, the US and China. Products made in China, for instance, are assembled by parts made in not only China but also various countries including those of ASEAN and Japan. The same is true for products made in the US. This trade war is obstructing trade with third countries producing parts and adversely affecting each country’s economy.   

However, we have to ponder what the cause of the US-China trade war is. The issues of China's unfair market-distorting measures pointed out by the US, such as "subsidies for strategic industries" and "forced technology transfer," are not just the concerns of the US. They are also the concerns of many parties including the EU and Japan.

In the middle of October, I visited Washington to host a seminar. While there I heard a theory that shocked me: that of the "decoupling of the economies.” As China’s economic system is different, and as it seems unlikely to change, the hitherto globalized world economy will split in two. Can we permit such a global trade system to emerge? I think it is inconceivable.

Meanwhile, although much rests on the WTO playing its own role in a responsible way, it is currently losing trust from the world. Such problems have been pointed out as dysfunction of its dispute settlement system and inability to create new rules, as well as transparency of trade-related measures of member countries and issues regarding furnishing of information. The free trade framework is currently in danger. And, consequently, trade promotion organizations are in danger of not being able to operate normally.

In today's symposium, a presentation will be delivered by Mr. Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, Chairman of Japan Association of Corporate Executives, and keynote speech by His Excellency Roberto Azevedo, Director-General of the World Trade Organization. How should we respond to the crisis faced by the free trade system, and the stagnation of the WTO? We are all very eager to hear their insight.

Two panel discussions have also been prepared. In the first, panelists will discuss what is the actual root of the current trade war and how to solve it, as well as the roles of the US, Europe and Japan. In the second, we will hear thoughts on how Asia should play a role in the future trade system, focusing on emerging countries.

I would like to finish by expressing my hope that this symposium will offer some measure of useful information on prospects for the global economy and trade. Thank you.