Japanese study export options
Housing seen as a golden market opportunity

by Nancy Gardiner
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 23/97) - A senior Japanese business executive was in Yellowknife recently exploring Canadian export opportunities to the Japanese market.

Yoshio Ishikawa wants to see an expansion of products for export to Japan -- especially in the housing sector.

One particular success story is that Canada serves as Japan's number 1 supplier of packaged houses. And there's room for more.

Ishikawa is the executive director of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), which is based in Toronto.

JETRO is a crown corporation set up by the Japanese government to promote investment and encourage Canadian exports to Japan. JETRO also has offices in Vancouver and Montreal.

"One big opportunity for Canadian exports to Japan right now is imported houses," he says.

Some Canadian companies in the housing industry have already sent their employees to Japan to learn Japanese, he says.

Japanese are looking for energy-saving, earthquake-proof and reasonably priced homes. Since the 1995 earthquake (that devastated the city of Kobe), we've been looking more to Canadian housing suppliers, he says.

The earthquake destroyed between 100,000 and 150,000 homes.

The Japanese government is trying to improve the quality of housing to Japanese consumers, says Ishikawa.

The cost to build homes in Japan is generally three times higher than in Canada, he says.

There are higher labor and administration costs, and building materials have to be imported to Japan. Prices vary depending upon the region. Tokyo, after all, is one of the most expensive cities in the world.

But Ishikawa says more groundwork needs to be laid if the NWT wants to become a serious trading partner with Japan.

"I think we need to understand each other more if we're going to pursue business opportunities with Japan and the NWT. Japanese businesses are looking at division of the NWT in 1999 and how it affects our business climate.

"I have to study it myself before I come to any conclusion."

Currently, there is very little trade between the NWT and Japan, he says.

Another problem, says Ishikawa, is an apparent lack of infrastructure in the NWT, so if improvements are made, there could be improvements in business opportunities.

The bulk of Canada's trade to Japan is through British Columbia and Alberta.

However, Japanese trading companies (import-export) or mining companies could be interested in pursuing some business opportunities here, he says.

"We're always looking for something unique for the Japanese market."

This is Ishikawa's first trip to the Northwest Territories. During his two-day visit, he toured a mine site and met with local business people.

He says many Canadian companies are involved in the Japanese market and some are forming corporate alliances. Some would act as distribution agents for Canadian manufacturers, he adds.

Ishikawa says that about three or four years ago, the federal government announced an action plan for Japan on value-added exports.