Kuwaiti-Japanese Businessmen’s Committee Explores Future Cooperation

Kuwaiti and Japanese businessmen on Wednesday tapped cooperation opportunities, while the Kuwaiti side pledged serious outreach towards the abolishment of Kuwait's Offset Program and the conclusion of free trade agreement (FTA) between Japan and the Gulf States.

The 18th meeting of the Kuwaiti-Japanese Businessmen's Committee in Tokyo features three sessions; Economic policy, Business opportunity in Kuwait with a particular focus on infrastructure and medical services, and Promotion of investment and collaboration.

In his opening address, Kuwaiti Co-Chairman of the committee Khaled Al-Sager highlighted that many projects under the Kuwaiti Development Plan will be coordinated with the private sector through build-operate-transfer (BOT) or public-private partnership (PPP). "Such projects need strategic foreign partners with advanced technology and technical know-how as well as international marketing networks. We believe that Japanese partners can participate effectively in implementing these projects," head of the Kuwaiti side said.

Trade volume between Kuwait and Japan reached a record high of USD 17.2 billion in 2012, more than tripled in the last decade, said Al-Sager, who also serves as Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry Deputy Chairman.

On behalf of Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry Toshimitsu Motegi, Vice Minister Norihiko Ishiguro read a congratulatory message, in which Motegi voiced expectation that the Japanese companies will be able to contribute to Kuwait's national development through the participation in infrastructure projects and medical service.

At the one-day meeting, Supreme Council for Planning and Development Secretary General Dr. Adel Al-Wugayan provided an overview of the 4th annual plan of the current National Development Plan running through next March, noting that the government is spending over KD 21 billion in 2013/2014. "We are currently in a process to work on the 2nd Mid-range Plan, and aim to get approval from parliament next February," Dr. Al-Wugayan revealed in a statement to Kuwait News Agency (KUNA), adding that the next Mid-range Plan will be of much interest to Japanese companies.

The Kuwait Development Plan is designed to transform the country into a regional trade and finance center through sustaining economic development, economic diversification, and GDP growth.

Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR) Director General Dr. Naji Al-Mutairi laid out future vision and recent update of energy conservation and renewable energy projects in Kuwait, including the ongoing Shagaya Renewable Energy Power Park. According to Dr. Al-Mutairi, cost of power generation in his country has been steadily increasing and hit KD 2.4 billion (USD 8.4 billion) in 2011.

There was also a presentation by the Ministry of Health on situation and treatment of cancer in Kuwait, which expressed anticipation of Japan's contribution to this field. On the other hand, the government-affiliated Medical Excellence JAPAN said it is keen on sharing Japan's experience in the health sector, including cancer treatment, and on facilitating medical exchanges and cooperation with the Kuwaiti side.

State-run Kuwait Petroleum International and Japanese major refiner Idemitsu Kosan Co. briefed the participants on latest developments of a joint refinery and petrochemical project between Kuwait, Japan, and Vietnam. Other topics discussed in the gathering were bilateral cooperation in agribusiness and overview of economy in both countries.

During the meetings, Japanese Co-Chairman of the committee Saito Hiroshi sought support from the Kuwaiti participants to press the Kuwaiti government for the abolishment of the Offset Program and the early conclusion of Japan-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) FTA. "The Offset Program has become a major obstacle preventing investment by Japanese companies in Kuwait," Saito said at the meeting. "Without this program, I expect a much larger flow of Japanese investments to Kuwait, which should create many professional jobs and contribute to the development of a diversified Kuwaiti economy." Saito, who doubles as Honorary Advisor of Mizuho Financial Group, also expressed hope that the Kuwaiti government will reopen and advance stalled FTA talks, in its term as chair of the GCC next year.

The annual economic meeting came after the visit by Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe to Kuwait in August, in which he affirmed keenness on boosting economic relations between Japan and Kuwait through mutual exchanges between the public and private sectors. In a statement to KUNA, Kuwaiti Ambassador Al-Otaibi described Wednesday's gathering as fruitful discussions with a satisfactory outcome.

"The meeting today was very significant to really implement recommendation that has been taken during the prime minister's visit. The (two) sides agreed to expand their cooperation in various fields, particularly in the health sector, which is (a) new area of bilateral collaboration. It is very important for the Kuwaiti side to acquire Japanese experience in crucial areas such as cancer treatment," Al-Otaibi said after the talks.

As for Japan's concern on the Offset Program, he said the Kuwaiti side understands that the Japanese companies need to eliminate their burden in Kuwait, and that the issue will be conveyed to the relevant authorities.

The Kuwaiti-Japanese Businessmen's Committee, first launched in 1995, was organized by Japanese Cooperation Center for the Middle East (JCCME) with the objectives of encouraging and promoting feasible and viable projects and joint ventures available in both countries. With about 90 representatives from various sectors in attendance on Wednesday, including 70 from the Japanese side, the forum is a most important annual gathering between the government officials and businesspeople of the two countries.

The Kuwaiti delegation included representatives from Industrial Bank of Kuwait, Kuwait Energy, Kuwait Investment Authority, Kuwait University, Essa Husain Al-Youssefi and Sons. Co., National Bank of Kuwait, United Marketing Co., and Kuwait Industries Union.

Established in 1973 under the sponsorship of the Japanese government, JCCME has long played a bridging role between Japan and the countries in the Middle East and the North Africa region on the private-sector level by providing cooperation in the fields of trade, investment, economy, and technology. It also has a Japan Desk in Kuwait, which plays a bridging role between private companies of Kuwait and Japan to help them establish joint ventures. (end) mk.wsa KUNA 021244 Oct 13NNNN