Wed. May 18th, 2022


Japan’s largest international business group has warned that the country’s strict border restrictions run the risk of holding back foreign investment and crushing Tokyo’s efforts to compete as a global financial center.

Christopher LaFleur, a special adviser and former chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Japan, said a de facto ban on the entry of non-resident foreigners is likely to deter international companies from establishing a presence in the country to retain.

“The policy that Japan has implemented with regard to travel will at least greatly delay those efforts. “Honestly, they also raise some doubts about Japan’s willingness to serve as a trusted host for foreign-based businesses and for foreign investment,” LaFleur said in an interview with the Financial Times.

Some companies have been unable to bring employees to positions in Japan or specialists to help serve local clients, making it a struggle “to fully maintain their business operations in Japan,” he added.

The ACCJ joined a rising chorus of dismay from Japanese business leaders, academics and educational institutions at the difficult borders.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reintroduced the measures at the end of November following the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant around the world. Japan posted record high numbers of new Covid-19 infections this week, with more than 70,000 cases reported Wednesday, and the restrictions will remain in place until at least the end of February.

The measures were put in place even while the world’s third largest economy managed to avoid high death tolls and blockades imposed in Europe, the US and China. Japan recorded fewer than 19,000 deaths and more than 75 percent of the population was vaccinated.

Managers say the move puts Japan at a competitive disadvantage for its G7 counterparts such as the UK, US and some EU countries, which have eased travel borders as vaccination levels have risen and borders kept open.

“Now that most of the tribes in Japan make up the Omicron variant, it makes no sense to continue the measure,” Masakazu Tokura, chairman of the Keidanren, Japan’s largest business lobby group, said on Monday.

Hiroshi Mikitani, chair of Rakuten, the e-commerce platform, warned this month that the curbs were “barriers to innovation” and compared the approach to Japan’s isolationist policies between the 17th and 19th centuries.

“What point is there in not allowing new foreign citizens access at this stage? This decision is just too illogical. Do we want to isolate Japan from the rest of the world? ” he wrote on Twitter.

Japan’s prolonged isolation has meant that companies have struggled to fill jobs in one of the tightest labor markets in the world. The country’s gross domestic product shrank at an annual rate of 3.6 percent between July and September last year, and executives warn that the restrictions will make it impossible to attract international talent, hindering global face-to-face transactions.

The government defended the restrictions, with Kishida telling the World Economic Forum last week that he intends to protect “the elderly and other vulnerable people at high risk of infection”, adding that the Japanese public is tightening want boundary rules.

A survey by NHK, the public broadcaster, conducted after the restrictions were tightened, revealed that Kishida’s support had increased by 7 points to 57 percent and almost two thirds of the respondents said that they supporting the pandemic.

Fumio Kishida, Japan's Prime Minister, speaks to the World Economic Forum last week

Fumio Kishida, Japan’s Prime Minister, told the World Economic Forum last week that the public supports restrictions designed to protect the elderly and vulnerable © AP

Takahide Kiuchi, executive economist at the Nomura Research Institute, a brainstorming firm, said many companies have addressed boundary constraints by using Zoom and other online tools, which mitigate a significant impact on the economy. But he said the controls run the risk of making Japan appear to have “low awareness of human rights against foreign nationals”.

The World Health Organization has advised countries to ease travel bans, describing them as “ineffective” because they “provide no added value and still contribute to economic and social stress”.

Hundreds of academics and experts have also signed an open letter to the government, warning that some North American students are abandoning Japanese as their foreign language and shifting their focus to countries they can visit.

A group in Japan led by people separated from their overseas relatives has launched a petition on change.org that has collected about 15,000 signatures, calling on the government to ease the controls.

Rakuten hired Indian engineers, but many had to stay outside of Japan, meaning they could not test mobile networks for commercial customers in the country.

Chika True-Daniels, who manages human resources at the company’s mobile division, said more than 150 prospective graduates in India had accepted Rakuten’s job offer this year.

“I’m waiting for them to come, hopefully when the borders are open, to the graduation ceremony,” True-Daniels said. “We have a lot of projects and jobs to fill.”





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