BURSA 20.03.2017

Reported by ANCUȚA STANCIU (translated by Cosmin Ghidoveanu)
 
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     * Interview with H.E. Mr. Kisaburo Ishii, The Ambassador of Japan to Bucharest
     * "I don't think that Japanese banks would be interested in opening branches in Romania at the moment"
     * "At present, JICA does not have the right to offer financial aid to new projects in Romania any longer"
     * "Bucharest is missing the big picture in what regards urban planning"
         His Excellency, Kisaburo Ishii, the Ambassador of Japan to Bucharest, arrived in Romania in October 2015. Along his career path, he specialized in urban planning and housing policy. He graduated the Law Faculty of Tokyo University and then he entered the Ministry of Construction, where he held in turn the following positions: Head of PR division in the Secretariat of the Financial Reconstruction Committee, vice president of the Urban Renaissance Agency (the former Japan Housing Corporation), deputy general director within the Government for the TPP Secretariat, general director of the Urban Bureau, professor at the National Institute for Political Studies in Tokyo University (specializing in urban economics), etc. In July 2015, he left the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism with the rank of Vice Minister.

 
     1.Reporter: Excellency, what is your opinion about the architecture of Bucharest, taking into account that, throughout your career you have been in charge of urban planning and housing construction?
     Kisaburo ISHII: I have noticed that in Bucharest there is some kind of architectural confusion: we find here old and beautiful buildings, new buildings, buildings in ruins. I have also noticed that this feeling extends to urban planning as well, especially in what regards space planning, individual planning, control of individual buildings and problems with the conservation of historical buildings. The lack of rehabilitation of the facades is fatal for Bucharest, such a beautiful city, which wants to promote tourism. This is my impression after one year of living in Bucharest. I am speaking now as an urban planning expert that has a critical eye and notices elements that could be fixed. On a positive side, however, I believe that there have been some visible improvements since I came here and I am hopeful that they will continue, at a faster pace.
     2.Reporter: What is missing in Bucharest and prevents it from becoming a perfect city?
     Kisaburo ISHII: As I have said before, Bucharest is lacking the big picture of urban planning or urban strategy, which would improve not only the physical planning of the city, but also the rehabilitation of facades, the control of traffic and transport infrastructure, etc. That is comprehensive and dynamic planning.
     3.Reporter: Bucharest is the capital city with the highest seismic risk in Europe, having many buildings with construction problems, especially in the Old Town. In case of earthquake, we would face a housing disaster, but also a human one. What do you advise the Romanian authorities to do in order to prevent such a disaster?
     Kisaburo ISHII: What is important is that Bucharest is the capital of Romania, which represents the center of the system of the country. If something happens in Bucharest, several cities in Romania will be affected and even neighboring countries such as Bulgaria and the Republic of Moldova. In Japan, the most recent disastrous earthquake was the one in Fukushima and then, not only Fukushima, but the entire region was seriously affected by the earthquake. But it did not paralyze the economy of Japan, because it was not the capital city. After the earthquakes that have shaken Japan over the years, the people are afraid and acknowledge the need to prepare in case of earthquake, I am referring here inclusively at prevention.
     Japan has a fundamental legal structure in case of catastrophe (the Disaster Countermeasures Basic Law), but also a system of measures after disasters (the Disaster Relief Act, etc.), which refers to urgent remedies and reconstruction measures after an earthquake has occurred. Based on the legal framework, a municipality must, first of all, make an evacuation plan, a plan of intervention for medical teams and, at the same time, a prevention plan and a building reinforcement plan.
     But not only the authorities must be prepared in case of disaster, but also the individual families, who must have an individual survival plan. For instance, the Embassy has 30 people - 10 Japanese and 20 Romanians. Here, at the Embassy, we have stocks of supplies (food and water) to last us a few days. The same goes for my Residence. We must learn to survive by ourselves, without any help from the authorities. I think the individual survival plan of each family is very important in case of disaster.
     4.Reporter: But the population should be educated for this.
     Kisaburo ISHII: Of course. But does Romania have prevention education in schools in case of earthquake?
     When I was in Japan I did this type of education in the administration of housing. The adults are too busy to make money, to go to the office and they do not have time for discussions about disaster prevention. And then children could be instructed in schools to examine the structure of their houses, I refer to the number of pillars and the positioning of walls. These can be easily analyzed by schoolchildren to determine whether a house is fragile or not. And the children will then discuss all these aspects with their parents. This is one way used by the Government of Japan to prevent disasters caused by earthquakes.
     Also, drills are very important. Every year, on September 1st, the day the Great Kanto Earthquake occurred (note: The Kanto Earthquake, which was named after the Kanto plains that spread themselves between Tokyo and Yokohama, occurred exactly one minute after 12, on a Saturday, September 1st 1923, and had a magnitude between 7.9 and 8.3 on the Richter scale.), when approximately 160,000 people died, throughout the country, all the Japanese, from the Prime Minister to the regular citizens, participate in a kind of nation-wide drill, on which occasion the evacuation places, water and food supplies, the logistic, etc. are all checked. As the date of September 1st draws near, all the press has special editions about disasters, sometimes criticize the administration, but also give good examples chosen among administrations and citizens.
     It is very efficient to promote the prevention of disasters, to make drills, not only to show them, but to present them in such a way in order to influence the mindset of people, urging them to prepare. These are my recommendations.
     5.Reporter: Even though the shops on the ground floor have closed, people keep living on the upper floors.
     Kisaburo ISHII: I live close to Piata Romana. Sometimes I go for a walk on Calea Victoriei and I have seen many shops that were forced to close down and relocate in shopping malls in the suburbs because of risky buildings.
     It is incredible indeed, but I do not know what is the degree of risk of those buildings. Of course, ideally these buildings would be rebuilt from scratch, but, in some cases this is impossible.
     If, following an earthquake, the building presents cracks, but the people living there have survived, this level of damage is acceptable, only the reinforcement of the building structure becoming necessary. The Administration in Japan has taken various measures to promote rebuilding and rehabilitation since the population is not always that rich to be able to afford building reinforcement completely by themselves.
     What I have witnessed here, in Bucharest, is the gradual or, I daresay slow death, of the old streets of Bucharest, which are so beautiful. The urban planning policies do not regard only safety, but also the vitality of the city, two aspects that need to be assured in parallel.
     6.Reporter: What are the most important projects of JICA in Romania?
     Kisaburo ISHII: Among the finalized projects, the largest by value is Turceni Thermal Power Plant (note: which provides approximately 10% of Romania's annual consumption with an installed capacity of 2310 MW), the total support offered by JICA having reached USD 250 million.
     The second largest project by value is the rehabilitation of the railway line Bucharest - Constanta, which benefited from Japanese support worth approximately USD 223 million.
     These projects have already been completed. There is only one on-going, or rather not started yet, project with JICA financing left - the M6 subway line, which aims to link Gara de Nord with Henri Coanda International Airport. At the request of then-president Traian Basescu, the Government of Japan committed to Romania an ODA loan worth approximately EUR 370 million for this project in 2010.
     This M6 subway line is the last project that can benefit from Japanese Government ODA loans, since Romania already joined the EU in 2007.
     7.Reporter: What can you tell us about the collaboration between JBIC and EximBank?
     Kisaburo ISHII: There is a memorandum of understanding between JBIC and EximBank. It is a very general document, tied in 2007, but with no concrete results.
     JBIC is a bank of the Japanese government that activates in the field of exporting advanced technologies. JBIC finances and offers guarantees with the main purpose of promoting Japanese exports, imports and Japanese economic activities abroad. The main function of the bank is to maintain the economic and social stability in Japan, but also in developing countries throughout the world. Just like EximBank, JBIC is guided by the principle of not competing with private financial institutions, but to offer services complementary to those that exist on the financial market.
     JBIC is operating like a commercial bank, just like Mitsubishi or Mizuho, having favorable crediting conditions, from the point of view of interest rate, grace period, etc., but, at the same time, this must also contribute to the export of Japanese technologies. For instance, now that Japan is promoting coal-based super - high efficiency power stations. JBIC is interested in financing such projects because Japanese technology in the field can thus be exported. I would be happy to hear that Romania is also interested in collaborating with JBIC. From what I hear at the moment many large public projects in Romania are co-financed by international institutions, such as the World Bank, EBRD, EIB, etc.
     8.Reporter: Which city in Romania do you consider that is best positioned from the point of view of urban planning?
     Kisaburo ISHII: I have not visited very many cities in Romania to be able to form an opinion. But I believe that Brasov and Sibiu are well maintained, the latter probably because it was designated a European Cultural Capital. There are certain areas in Sibiu, for instance the city center, where the access of auto vehicles is prohibited and traffic is very fluid. Also, once you leave the old city center it is easily noticeable that residential as well as industrial areas have developed strongly.
     9.Reporter: What is your opinion about the economic relations between Japan and Romania?
     Kisaburo ISHII: From a trade point of view the relation between Japan and Romania is quite modest and I do not think that in the near future it will develop too much. Romania does not have too many goods to import from Japan and, on the other hand, we do not have much to import from Romania either. The main products that we buy from Romania are lumber, furniture, and sometimes clothing, but we cannot expect large volumes taking into account the cheap products from China and other countries.
     (Note: According to the data of the Ministry of Finance of Japan, Romanian exports to Japan reached a total value of over 432 million euros in 2016, while Japan exported to Romania only 350 million euros-worth of goods. We mainly import from Romania lumber, wood for construction and wooden products, clothing, footwear and raw materials such as un-milled cereals, seeds, etc. The Romanian honey, for instance, is quite appreciated in Japan. On the other hand, Romania imports from Japan mainly auto parts, auto vehicles, electric circuit parts, pumps and centrifugal machines, synthetic rubber, etc.)
     The main Japanese investments in Romania focused mainly on the automotive industry (auto parts, electric components, tires), ball bearings, electronic products, photo cameras, etc. I can tell you that there are approximately 160 Japanese companies registered in Romania. Of these, 25 are large manufacturing companies, which have 48 production plants here and employ more than 38,000 people. I have noticed that recently companies in the field of high technology have also come here, such as software companies.
     Romania is attractive for Japanese investors in particular because of the very advanced education level, IT knowledge and the fact that in the multi-ethnic regions Romanians can speak many foreign languages, in particular in Western Romania.
     I think that at the moment the FDI from Japan to Romania is approximately similar to that coming from China or South Korea. In fact I believe that they are much larger because, in the majority of cases, investments do not come directly from Japan, but through the German, Dutch or Italian subsidiaries of Japanese companies.
     For example, the company NTT Data, which is a branch of the Japanese company registered in Germany, has hired 600 programmers in Cluj. That investment is considered German investment, but, in fact, it is Japanese. If we take into account these types of investments, then the Japanese investments in Romania are much times larger than believed to be.
     10.Reporter: Do you know of other Japanese companies that want to invest in Romania?
     Kisaburo ISHII: Up to now the cheap labor force has been indeed an attractive aspect for companies, but lately the labor force has gotten more expensive in Romania. In some areas, not only Japanese manufacturers but also others are suffering from labour shortages, especially of skilled workers. Companies strongly insist on the dire need for technical education.
     Romania still has many strong points, as I have mentioned before, foreign language ability, educated workforce, solid IT knowledge of the population. Moreover, Romania is a relatively stable country, with a good economic performance. It recorded the strongest GDP growth rate in Europe last year. I am sure that many foreign investors, including Japanese, have reasons to consider Romania a good investment destination. For example, it is possible that Japanese companies present in Turkey might prefer Romania now, taking into account the situation over there.
     11.Reporter: Why don't Japanese banks come to Romania?
     Kisaburo ISHII: For the moment the investments of Japanese companies in Romania are satisfactorily financed by the branches of Japanese banks that are already present in large European cities, which cover the majority of their financing needs.
     It would be very costly to open a branch of a Japanese bank in Bucharest at the moment. The client-base here would not justify the costs. For the time being I do not think that Japanese banks would be interested in opening a branch in Romania.
     But, in case of a large infrastructure project, if Japanese companies get involved in that project and were to need a loan from a financial institution, then it would be easier to find financing at a Japanese bank rather than a European one, because in Japan they would have a direct business communication and, in Japan, they would know better the record of a company and the initial stages of opening a business. Banks usually require a lot of guarantees to first-time customers, but, in case of a Japanese bank, normally, if a company has a good business relationship with banks in Japan, then banks do not request such guarantees.
     However, in view of Brexit, this situation might change. Some European headquarters of Japanese financial institutions located in London are considering relocating some of their departments to the continent.
     12.Reporter: What can you tell us about the nuclear cooperation between Japan and Romania?
     Kisaburo ISHII: I'm afraid that, for the time being, it is difficult. Of course there are many Japanese companies that operate in the nuclear field. But the technologies of those companies are supported by large utility firms, such as Tokyo Electric, that was the largest utility company in Japan. After the disaster in Fukushima these companies suffered heavy losses and I do not think that, at the moment, they can enter new markets. They focus on the contracts they have with other countries.
     13.Reporter: Which are the largest Japanese investments in Romania?
     Kisaburo ISHII: For example, Sumitomo Electric Wiring Systems (SEWS) is a Japanese company that specializes in the manufacturing of electric cables. In Romania SEWS started their activity in the year 2000, with the development of the cable factory in Deva, Hunedoara County. After that they expanded their operations to other locations as well.
     Yazaki is one of the most important world suppliers for the automotive industry, and their main products are cables for automobiles, apparel and parts for the automotive industry. In Romania, Yazaki opened their first factory in Ploiesti, in 2003. Yazaki also has other factories in Caracal, Arad, Urlati (Prahova county), Braila.
     Takata, producer of steering wheels, airbags and safety belts for automobiles is also present in Romania through factories located in Sibiu and Arad. And other equally large companies such as Calsonic Kansei, Koyo, etc. are doing pretty good business here.
     Last year Japanese group Nidec finalized the takeover of ANA IMEP Ploiesti, a motor factory owned by the Copos family.
     Also last year the Japanese company Asahi Group Holdings bought the shares of SABMiller in Eastern Europe, included Ursus in Romania.
     14.Reporter: Are Romanians interested in Japanese culture? Is there a Japanese school in Romania?
     Kisaburo ISHII: Every year approximately 2,000 people enroll in language courses to study Japanese, in some universities and high schools. The exposure to Japanese culture increases year by year and I do my best to promote it. To give you a few examples of cultural activities organized with the help of our Embassy this year:
     - On March 30th there will be a performance of a prestigious Japanese contemporary dance group called NOISM at the National Theatre. They will perform an original version of La Bayadere.
     - On April 5th and 6th NOISM will be in Sibiu, at the Radu Stanca National theatre, to perform The Match Seller's Tale & Passacaglia.
     - Between April 20th and June 5th there will be a Japanese crafts exhibition from the Tohoku region at the Village Museum in Bucharest.
     - Between May 3rd and June 15th the National Art Museum in Bucharest will host an exhibition of the etchings of Noriko Yanagisawa, a famous Japanese artist born in 1940, who has received many international awards throughout the years.
     - November is Japan Cultural Month. Usually in November we organize many cultural events such as films and animation nights, concerts, various workshops, karaoke contests, etc.
     I am also very pleased to see that Japanese food culture is appreciated in Romania. There are close to 20 Japanese restaurants in Bucharest and their number is increasing.
     15.Reporter: What is the economic and political situation in Japan at present?
     Kisaburo ISHII: The GDP growth in Japan has not been very impressive in recent years, 1-2%, but, based on what I felt living in Japan, the economic situation is very good. For example, if we look at the unemployment rate, in Romania it is 6%, while in Japan it is 3%.
     16.Reporter: After Trump was elected president, do you think the situation in what regards exports will change?
     Kisaburo ISHII: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has already had a two-day meeting with Mr. Donald Trump. I think the American president has understood the situation in Japan in what regards the Japanese expenditure to the US army based in Japan. And Japan already has a large burden with our own armed forces, the Self Defense Forces (SDF).
     In what regards trade and investments, Japan has already made huge investments in the USA, creating a large number of jobs there. Vice-president Mike Pence knows this fact for sure since he used to be governor in Indiana, region in which several Japanese companies have made big investments - Toyota, Honda. I think that, for the time being, even though America has exited TPP, we can have a good relation.
     Reporter: Thank you! 
 

 
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