Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is scheduled to arrive for a visit in mid-January as part of a regional tour, fresh off his election last month by Japan’s parliament to serve another term.
This will be the first visit by a Japanese prime minister since Junichiro Koizumi visited in the summer of 2006, just prior to the Second Lebanon War.
The visit, which has not yet been officially announced, will come just a couple weeks after the cabinet on Sunday approved a plan to strengthen economic ties with Japan and the investment of “tens of millions of shekels” over the next three years to make it possible.
While a Japanese prime minister has not been to Israel since 2006, then prime minister Ehud Olmert visited Japan in 2008, as did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last May. Abe will also visit the Palestinian Authority during his stay.
Netanyahu, at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, stressed the importance of diversifying Israel’s markets, which is heavily based on trade with the EU, it’s largest trade partner, and the US.
“In the last two years, I have met with the leaders of China, Japan and India as part of a comprehensive policy of turning to major markets including Latin America and Africa,” Netanyahu said.
Israel is making a concentrated attempt to significantly increase trade ties with Japan, which – after China and the US – is the third largest economy in the world. Despite its size, Israel exports to Japan have, according to a statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office, been stagnant in recent years and amounted to only $720 million in 2013, or only about 1.3 percent of all Israel’s commercial exports.
That same year Israel exported $2.6 billion to China, and $2.1b. to the Netherlands.
By comparison, Austria – which is of comparable size to Israel – exported $1.6b. in 2013 to Japan, and Ireland exported $3.5b.
In order to improve the trade, the plan approved in the cabinet calls for the opening of an Israeli trade office in Osaka, increasing the number of commercial attaches in Tokyo, increasing joint research grants by 50% in 2015, increasing space cooperation, and promoting plans to increase Japanese tourism by 45% in two years.
In 2013 only 13,500 Japanese arrived in the country, compared to 28,100 from South Korea and 9,200 from Malaysia, with whom Israel does not even have diplomatic relations.