Japan Sends High-level Trade Delegation to Israel

A high-level Japanese trade delegation arrived here Wednesday for wide-ranging talks on commercial relations and international economic conditions. According to observers, this may be a further signal that Japan is ending its long-standing tilt toward compliance with the Arab League boycott of Israel.

The delegation, which met with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres Thursday morning, is headed by Nihichiro Hanamura, chairman of an umbrella organization of Japanese businesses. Israel’s ambassador to Japan, Yaacov Cohen, who flew in from Tokyo for the talks, noted that this is the 15th official delegation from Japan to visit Israel since 1985.

Prior to that year there were none. Cohen pointed out that cultural relations between the two countries have improved immensely over the past two years and predicted that trade relations will do as well.

Israel is something of an anomaly among Japan’s trading partners. According to the Japanese, it is the only country with which Japan has an unfavorable trade balance. Last year Japan imported $322.4 million worth of goods from Israel, but sold Israel only $274.6 million.

Ambassador Cohen said Wednesday that Israel hopes to double its exports to Japan in the next two years.

Trade experts observe, however, that Israel’s trade balance with Japan may not be as impressive as the statistics show. Two-thirds of Israel’s exports to Japan are polished diamonds, the income from which must be balanced against the high cost of Israel’s purchase of rough stones. Therefore, the net figures may still be in Japan’s favor, the experts say.

RELUCTANCE TO DO BUSINESS

Part of the trade imbalance may be due to the reluctance of giant Japanese firms to do business with Israel. Japan is especially vulnerable to Arab pressure, because the country is heavily dependent upon Middle East oil. This has been said to account for the fact that leading Japanese automobile manufacturers, such as Honda, Toyota and Mitsubishi, do not sell their vehicles in Israel.

Cohen said Israel recently changed its tactics with respect to exports to Japan. Instead of seeking its markets among the largest Japanese corporations, which have heavy investments in the Arab world and fear the consequences of noncompliance with the boycott, Israeli businesses are now being encouraged to enter into partnerships with medium-sized firms that are less concerned with the boycott.

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