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Results of JETRO’s 2019 Survey on the International Operations of Japanese Firms

Feb 27, 2020

Between November and December 2019, the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) conducted a survey of Japanese firms that have used JETRO’s services to gauge their interest in business overseas. The survey received valid replies from 3,563 firms out of 9,975 (a 35.7% response rate), of which 2,990 were small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). It covers a range of topics, including trade and overseas investment activities, the business environment of foreign countries, the impact of trade protectionism and utilization of free trade agreements (FTAs).

Key points from results:

  • The ratio of firms planning to expand overseas business remained at the same level as the previous year. Momentum for business expansion into China is receding while Vietnam is catching up with China’s position.
  • Negative impacts of trade protectionism have expanded. Firms are shifting supply chains from China to Vietnam or Thailand.
  • The FTA utilization rate in exports was 51.2%. This is expected to increase further due to reduced tariff rates of FTAs.

Summary of survey:

Ⅰ. International trade and Overseas expansion, business environment of foreign countries

The ratio of firms planning to expand overseas business remained at the same level as the previous year. Momentum for business expansion into China is receding while Vietnam is catching up with China’s position.

Regarding overseas business expansion (both new investments and further expansion of existing overseas bases) policies over the next three years or so, the ratio of firms “planning to expand overseas business” came to 56.4%, remaining about the same as the previous year (57.1%). Looking at its breakdown, 25.5% of respondents answered that “they currently have no overseas bases but intend to begin overseas business in the future,” a slight increase from the previous year (24.2%). On the other hand, the percentage of firms that answered “they currently have overseas bases and are planning to further expand overseas business” has dropped from 32.9% to 30.9%. Some respondents have pointed out external factors, such as the recent changes in the global situation and the US-China trade friction, as obstacles to overseas expansion. This shows that difficulties in projecting future trends in this highly uncertain environment hindered overseas business expansion, in addition to the lack of management resources such as human resources. (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Comments on overseas business expansion policies over the next three years or so (free description)

JETRO

Regarding the countries and regions where firms aim to expand business overseas (multiple answers), among firms that answered that "they currently have an overseas base and are planning to further expand operations," the ratio of firms citing China was 48.1%. This result, being below 50%, is a significant drop from the previous year (55.4%). On the other hand, Vietnam ranked second with 41.0%, exceeding 40% for the first time. The difference between Vietnam and China narrowed to 7.1 percentage points from 19.9 percentage points in the previous year (Figure 2).

Figure2. Countries/regions for overseas expansion (top three countries)

The number of respondents in each years is as follows; 1602 in 2011,1149 in 2012, 1119 in 2013, 1001 in 2014, 895 in 2015, 992 in 2016, 938 in 2017, 1050 in 2018, and 1028 in 2019.As for China, 67.9% in 2011, 59.2% in 2012, 56.9% in 2013, 56.5% in 2014, 53.7% in 2015, 52.3% in 2016, 49.4% in 2017, 55.4% in 2018, and 48.1% in 2019.As for Vietnam, 20.3% in 2011, 25.9% in 2012, 29.6% in 2013, 28.7% in 2014, 32.4% in 2015, 34.1% in 2016、37.5% in 2017, 35.5% in 2018 , and 41.0% in 2019.As for Thailand, 27.9% in 2011, 41.2% in 2012, 47.0% in 2013, 44.0% in 2014, 41.7% in 2015, 38.6% in 2016, 36.7% in 2017, 34.8% in 2018, and 36.3% in 2019.

JETRO

Note: 1) Numbers within brackets are the number of respondents for each year. Respondents for FY 2011 and 2012 are firms that answered they “plan to newly invest overseas or expand existing business” minus the firms that didn't answer about the functions they would expand. Respondents from 2013 onwards are the firms that answered “currently have an overseas base and planning to further expand operations” minus those that didn’t answer about expansion. 2)Proportion of number of firms who plan to expand one or more of their functions in each country/region.

In major ASEAN countries other than Vietnam, the response ratio of Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, etc., also increased from the previous year. The results showed that 71.1% of firms answered that they would expand their business in six major ASEAN countries in the future, an increase for the first time in six years, since FY2013. Among firms answering “ASEAN” as a destination for business expansion, along with expectations for future market expansion and intentions to strengthen the role of export bases, we also heard indications of considering bases in ASEAN in addition to China from the viewpoint of risk aversion.
In Vietnam, where the response ratio has risen sharply this year, the proportion of firms that answered “market size/growth potential” as an attraction or advantage of doing business in Vietnam has continued to increase (Table 1). In FY2019, it increased by 11.1 percentage points to 86.1% compared to 2013 (75.0%), which is as far back as data is available. Other attractions and advantages that have increased from FY2013 include clustering of customer firms, political and social stability, availability of low cost land and offices (Land, offices), and ease of local procurement (Ease of local procurement). The combination of the overall improvement of the business environment in Vietnam and the restructuring of supply chains to avoid additional tariffs measure between the US and China(see below) led to a significant increase in the response rate in Vietnam. By industry, the percentage of non-manufacturing firms that cited Vietnam increased slightly from the previous year (41.1% to 42.3%), while that of manufacturing, which is more susceptible to additional tariffs, increased a significant amount from 31.4% to 39.9%.

Table1: Attractions and advantages in Vietnam(top 10 items, by country)(Multiple answers, %, %point)
Rank Attractions and advantages FY2013
(n=1,047)
FY2017
(n=1,261)
FY2019
(n=1,410)
FY2013
→FY2019
1 Market size/growth potential 75.0 82.2 86.1 11.1
2 Pro-Japanese feeling 42.8 41.5
3 Labor cost / labor force 44.0 41.9 40.9 △ 3.1
4 Personnel quality 19.7 20.2 19.6 △ 0.1
5 Clustering of customer firms 14.7 19.8 18.1 3.4
6 Political and social stability 15.3 17.8 16.7 1.4
7 Land, offices 8.3 12.3 11.4 3.1
8 Ease of local procurement 5.1 8.7 8.9 3.8
9 Living environment 4.0 6.9 6.7 2.7
10 Employee retention rate 5.3 7.0 6.2 0.9

Notes:1) n is the total number of firms that responded regarding attractiveness and advantages (only for countries where they are currently doing business, or considering doing so). 2) The value in each cell is the response rate for each item for number of responding firms (n) for each country (= number of responses for each attraction or advantage / n) 3) a bold number indicate that the response rate rose compared to the previous survey. 4) “Pro-Japanese feeling” was added in FY2017. “Clustering of customer firms (delivery destinations)” was “clustering of trading partners (delivery destination)” in FY2013. “High employee quality, abundant highly qualified personnel” was “high employee quality” in FY2013. 5) Refer to the summary of result for the original expressions of the attractions and advantages.

Meanwhile, in China, where the response ratio dropped sharply this year, the largest issue for doing business was "additional tariff measures between the US and China" as pointed out by 60.8% of firms. (Table 2). The percentage of firms planning to expand their business in China in the future has fallen sharply in the manufacturing sector (62.0%→51.8%) compared to the non-manufacturing sector (46.5%→43.2% in the previous year). This is seen as being the result of the impact of the US-China trade friction. More than 10% of firms in the US and China; as well as Taiwan, South Korea and Mexico; have recognized "additional tariff measures between the US and China" as a business issue. As for other issues in conducting business in China, the rate of answers for "Political/social situations, security," "intellectual property protection (IP protection)," "High/rising labor costs" and "collection of bills" were all higher than 30%.

Table2-1: Issues in the business environment in China (top 10 items, by country)(Multiple answers, %)
Rank categories response rates
1 Additional tariff measures between the US and China 60.8
2 Political/social situations, security 42.9※
3 IP protection 40.7#
4 High/rising labor cost 37.8
5 Collection of bills 35.0
6 Administrative procedures 28.7
7 Legal system and its enforcement 18.5
8 Tax system and procedures 18.5
9 Exchange risk 14.9
10 Natural disasters, environmental pollution 12.8
Table2-2: Issues in the business environment in US (top 10 items, by country)(Multiple answers, %)
Rank categories response rates
1 Additional tariff measures between the US and China 50.2
2 No particular issues 25.8#
3 High/rising labor cost 20.0#
4 Exchange risk 16.4
5 Administrative procedures 9.0#
6 Labor shortage, difficulty in hiring 7.5#
7 Political/social situations, security 6.5#
8 ax system and procedures 4.3#
9 Brexit risk 3.4#
10 Collection of bills 3.3#

(China and US Common) Notes:1) n is the total number of firms that responded regarding issues (only for countries where they are currently doing business, or considering doing so). 2) The value in each cell is the response rate for each item for number of responding firms (n) for each country (= number of responses for each issue / n) 3) A bold number and(#) indicate that the response rate rose compared to the last survey (FY2017). Of which, a red bold number and (※) indicate an increase of 5% or more and cells with a bold number indicate that the response rate declined by 5% or more. However, “Additional tariff measures between the US and China” was not included in the previous survey, and so time series comparisons cannot be performed. 4) Issues are arranged in descending order of the response ratio for each country, however items with the same response ratio are in the same rank. 5) Refer to the summary of result for the original expressions of the attractions and advantages.

Ⅱ. Impacts of trade protectionism

The ratio of respondents reporting negative effects has expanded to 20%. Firms are shifting supply chains from China to Vietnam or Thailand.

Regarding the impact of "trade protectionism" since 2017, such as US-China trade friction, the percentage of firms reporting “no impact” on their business at the time of the survey dropped from 43.1% in the previous year's survey to 37.2%. Meanwhile, the percentage of firms answering “overall negative impact” increased by 4.9 percentage points from 15.2% to 20.1% (Figure 3). Regarding the outlook for the future (about two to three years), 23.2% of firms answered "overall negative impact," while “unknown" has increased to 41.9%.

Figure 3. Impacts of trade protectionism (At the time of survey, total) Note: n is the total number of respondent firms.

In fisical year 2018、the total number of respondents is 3,385. The response rate of each option is as follows; overrall positive impacts, 1.9%, overrall negative impacts, 15.2%, around the same level of positive and negative impacts, 5.2%, no impact, 43.1%, unknown 28.0%, no answer, 6.7%. In fisical year 2019、the total number of respondents is 3,563. The response rate of each option is as follows; overrall positive impacts, 1.7%, overrall negative impacts, 20.1%, around the same level of positive and negative impacts, 6.1%, no impact, 37.2%, unknown 27.1%, no answer, 7.8%.

JETRO

Among all respondents in this survey, a total of 159 production base have been transferred (including partial transfers and plans to transfer) in response to trade protectionism. China was cited as the source of the transfer in most cases, accounting for 69.2% (110 cases). The percentage of firms that listed ASEAN as a major transfer destination accounted for 61.0% (97 cases).
Looking at the major restructuring patterns of the production bases, transfers from China to Vietnam accounted for 24.5% (39 cases), followed by transfers from China to Thailand at 14.5% (23 cases) (Figure 3). In terms of the timing of production transfer, 37.7% of the total transfers (159 cases) are scheduled for 2020 or later. The common tendency of firmsshifting from China to Vietnam and Thailand has been seen as the reorganization of suppliers and sales markets.

Table3: Major restructuring patterns of production base (including partial transfers and plans to transfer)(No. of cases, %)
Rank Shift from Shift to No. of cases Ratio
Total number of restructuring cases 159 100.0
1 China Vietnam 39 24.5
2 China Thailand 23 14.5
3 China Japan 11 6.9
4 Japan China 8 5.0
5 China Philippines 6 3.8
5 China Indonesia 6 3.8
5 Japan Thailand 6 3.8

Notes: The total number of restructuring cases is the cases that have been or will be transferred. A maximam of 2 cases per firm.

Ⅲ. Utilization of free trade agreements (FTAs)

The FTA utilization rate in exports was 51.2%. This is expected to increase further due to reduced tariff rates of FTAs.

Among firms exporting to FTA-partner countries of Japan, 51.2% were using FTAs when exporting to these countries. In particular, the utilization rate of large firms is as high as 70.5%, and it reaches 83.5% when combined with firms considering using FTAs. Although the utilization rate of FTAs for SMEs is lower than that for large enterprises, it is close to half (46.4%.) By industry, FTAs are widely used in chemicals, cars/car parts/other transportation machinery, and coal & petroleum products/plastics/rubber products.

* In the calculation of the FTA utilization rate, firms that export to Japan's FTA partners has been used as the denominator. However, some of these firms are not required to use FTAs for exports due to there being no general tariffs or their use of tariff exemption systems other than FTAs (bonded areas or export processing zones, etc.). Therefore, the FTA utilization rate is calculated by excluding these firms from the denominator from this year onward.

Figure 4. Utilization rates of Japan’s FTAs

The total number of respondents is 1,435. The utilization rate of Japan's FTAs is 51.2%, and 21.4% of the respondents are considering utilizing the FTAs. Regarding large-scale firms, the total number of the respondents is 285. 70.5% of them utilize Japan's FTAs, and 13.0% are considering doing so. Regarding small-medium enterprises, the total number of the respondents is 1,150. 46.4% of them utilize Japan's FTAs, and 23.5% are considering doing so.

JETRO

Note: n= firms that export to one or more Japan's FTA-partner countries/regions (Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Other ASEAN, India, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Switzerland, Australia, Mongolia, Canada, New Zealand, EU). This does not include firms who are not required to use FTAs due to there being no general tariffs or their use of tariff exemption systems other than FTAs (bonded areas or export processing zones, etc.).

Among firms using or considering using FTAs, 48.6% of them answered that they would consider using FTAs if the tariff difference (general tariff rate-FTA preferential tariff rate) was less than 5%. By firm size, large firms compared to SMEs decided to use FTAs with smaller tariff differences. Going forward, utilization is expected to expand in line with further reductions in the preferential tariff rate on FTAs concluded by Japan.

Reference:JETRO provides guidelines on the Japan-EU EPA and TPP-11 and brochures. JETRO also conducts seminars in various parts of Japan on the Japan-EU EPA and TPP-11 (60 times a year) and on the Japan-US Trade Agreement (12 times from January to March, 2020) in order to promote the use of FTAs and EPAs. In addition, the organization collects and distributes information on developments in the trade rules, such as regarding the world's major FTAs/EPAs including the Japan-EU EPA and TPP-11, as well as the WTO.

Other trends discerned from results of the survey

Ⅳ. Business aimed at foreign visitors

Expectations for increased sales in FY2020 on the occasion of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Paralympic Games

When asked about business aimed at foreign visitors to Japan, the ratio of firms running business aimed at foreign visitors came to 30.8%, a combination of those “running operations now” (22.9%) and those that “will be running operations in the future” (7.9%). Regarding prospects for domestic sales aimed at foreign visitors, 60.7% of firms answered that they would “increase” in FY2020, an expansion compared to the previous year (47.3%). Looking at responses by region, those answering that they expected an “increase in FY2020” in the Kanto/Koshinetsu region came to 64.5%, the largest ratio as a whole. Recently, new business development has expanded in areas such as commercial food sales of restaurants and accommodations for foreign visitors to Japan.

Ⅴ. Human resources for overseas business expansion

Highly-skilled foreign professionals are considered to be the most important element in specialized positions such as IT professionals. Japanese firms are more likely to recruit personnel who are capable of making immediate contributions to their operations.

When asked about the policy of securing personnel for expanding overseas business, the percentage of respondents who answered "human resource development of existing Japanese employees" was the highest in many industries, while the percentage of respondents who answered "recruitment and appointment of foreign personnel" was the highest in the areas of communication, information & software and professional services. In the specialized positions such as IT and legal professions, where there is a shortage of human resources in Japan, recruitment and appointment of highly-skilled foreign personnel tended to be regarded as most important. Looking at the changes over time since the past survey, the number of firm that place most importance on "recruiting foreign personnel" has increased. Among SMEs, recruitment of mid-career Japanese personnel familiar with overseas business has increased, demonstrating expectations for personnel who are capable of making immediate contributions to their operations.

Survey on the International Operations of Japanese Firms

Mr. Furukawa, Ms. Kashiwase or Mr. Yamada
International Economy Division, Overseas Research Department, JETRO
Tel: 03-3582-5177