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H.E. Takahiko Katsumata, Ambassador Of Japan To Serbia

Hope And Encouragement From Tokyo

We know that it is challenging to host the Olympic Games under such circumstances, but this is precisely why we intend for these 2021 Games to prove that humanity has defeated the virus – Takahiko Katsumata

Returning to Belgrade after a gap of almost four decades, new Japanese ambassador Takahiko Katsumata notes that the city has been modernised, but says that he can still find good cafes, contemporary art and recognisable historical monuments like the ones he remembers from back in 1984, when he first found himself in Serbia as a young diplomat. In this his first interview for CorD Magazine, the ambassador says that he’s been working enthusiastically on the commemorating of the 140th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Serbia. Ambassador Katsumata is witnessing increased interest in Serbia among Japanese investors, which he says is reflected in the recent arrival of the Toyo Corporation in Inđija.

Your Excellency, you arrived to take on the role of the new ambassador of Japan to Serbia this past December, stating at the time that you were returning to Belgrade 37 years after your first visit. How are your impressions today?

– I have been to Belgrade, then the capital of the former Yugoslavia, in the summer of 1984. That young diplomat from Japan was very impressed with the magnificent landscape of green hills with a castle over the grand Danube and Sava rivers. The warm hospitality of the people was also unforgettable.

I am so happy to be here again as the ambassador of Japan. My first impression after 37 years has not changed at all. I see that Belgrade looks far more modernised compared to my first visit. However, it remains rich in various kinds of cultural elements, such as kafana taverns, modern arts or historical heritage. People in Belgrade remain kind, with much hospitality. The Serbian culinary culture is also interesting to me. It is a pity that I so far haven’t been able to try well-known specialities of Serbian cuisine in local restaurants due to the sanitary measures related to COVID-19.

Fortunately, I’ve already had some opportunities to visit local cities of Serbia. I went to Inđija for the ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of the Toyo Tires factory and I also went to Golubinci for a visit to a tobacco farm that’s a supplier to the JTI company that made Japan’s first ever direct investment in Serbia. On the way to these places in Vojvodina, I saw the beautiful landscape of the suburban districts with traditional architecture and lifestyle. I hope to visit as many of Serbia’s cities and villages as possible during my term.

With regard to cooperation with Serbia, in August 2020 Japan decided to provide a total amount of 100 million JPY (approx. 820,000 euros) to the Government of Serbia to strengthen the country’s medical system for the fight against infectious diseases, including COVID-19, through the provision of medical equipment

Your term began during the time of the global struggle against COVID-19, which also seems to be dictating the topics of international and bilateral relations. What measures is Japan taking to combat the pandemic?

-Given the fact that COVID-19 has become a global issue, it is crucial for the international community to make concerted efforts. Japan has been working closely with the international community to tackle this global challenge.

With regard to cooperation with Serbia, in August 2020 Japan decided to provide a total amount of 100 million JPY (approx. 820,000 euros) to the Government of Serbia to strengthen the country’s medical system for the fight against infectious diseases, including COVID-19, through the provision of medical equipment. This grant aid provides medical institutions, especially in Serbia’s rural areas, with Japanese X-ray equipment, ambulances and other health and medical-related equipment. My desire is for the donation that delivers Japan’s high quality medical equipment to contribute to overcoming the healthcare disparities that exist between regions in Serbia and strengthening the country’s medical system that can fight against infectious diseases, including COVID-19, not only this time, but also in longer-term perspectives.

Japan appreciates the continuous efforts of the Serbian Government to combat COVID-19, including the early start of anti- Corona vaccination in these days, and we will continue to work closely to overcome this pandemic crisis.

Media reports suggest that vaccination should start in Japan at the end of February. Which pharmaceutical companies have been selected to deliver a vaccine in Japan?

– The government has sealed a contract for 144 million doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, enough for 70 million of the country’s 126 million people, by the end of June. Japan also has contracts with Moderna and AstraZeneca for the time being. Prime Minister Suga Masahide recently appointed former Foreign Minister Kono Taro as the Minister in charge of the promotion of Corona vaccination. It is highly expected that prompt, safe and fair vaccination will start in Japan soon.

You’ve been discussing the possibilities of strengthening economic cooperation with Japan since your arrival in Serbia. How would you explain your claim that Serbia has become more interesting to investors from Japan?

– About 30 Japanese companies are currently doing business increasingly in Serbia, including Toyo Tires’ recent launch of the construction of its new factory in Inđija, which is the biggest direct investment of Japan, worth almost 400 million euros.

This trend was created by Serbia’s efforts to implement socioeconomic reforms, including the promotion of a better business environment for foreign companies, and Japanese companies have started becoming aware of the actual merits of their investment in Serbia. Serbia has concluded FTAs with the EU, Turkey, Russia and other countries, which leads to good access to large regional markets. Serbia can also offer foreign investors easy access to a workforce with competitive costs or quality labour with high levels of education.

I also need to mention the top diplomacy between the two countries in recent years, characterised by the visits to Serbia of Prime Minister Abe in 2018 and Foreign Minister Kono in 2019, as well the visit of Prime Minister Brnabić to Japan in 2019, which have provided a strong driving force to promote our economic partnership.

We expect Japanese companies to continue accelerating their investments in Serbia.

I also need to mention the top diplomacy between the two countries in recent years, characterised by the visits to Serbia of Prime Minister Abe in 2018 and Foreign Minister Kono in 2019, as well the visit of Prime Minister Brnabić to Japan in 2019, which have provided a strong driving force to promote our economic partnership

You attended the formal launch of the construction of the Toyo Tires factory in Inđija. What are your impressions of the town and what do you expect from that investment?

– Inđija is close to both Belgrade and Novi Sad, and also has good rail and road access. This is why many companies from overseas are doing business in the region. I believe that Toyo Tires took this geographical advantage into consideration.

The investment of Toyo Tires is expected to be the largest one ever from Japan in Serbia, at 382 million euros, and will create more than 500 jobs. It also brings a new automated assembly system with state-of-the-art technology, which is expected to transfer Japanese technology and create a good business model to encourage other Japanese companies to start doing new business in Serbia. I hope this unique factory will expand a new European market and, as a whole, will be one of the driving forces behind the Serbian economy.

Toyo Tires also considered the Polish city of Gdansk as a location for its new factory. What role did state subsidies for Japanese companies and the gifting of land for the construction of the factory play in this company choosing Serbia?

– First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to the Serbian government for its continuous efforts aimed at improving the business environment in Serbia, especially for its well-designed support programmes for companies to start their businesses. For example, 15 free zones have so far been established in the country and companies have been offered preferential treatment, such as partial tax exemption. I believe that these enthusiastic forms of support from the Government are a key factor in Japanese companies deciding to expand their operations in Serbia. I also believe that the merits of regional market access and quality labour are also attractive for companies.

SHINKANSEN TRAIN – TOKYO STATION

On the part of the Embassy of Japan, we have offered an investors’ manual to Serbia on the website for the reference of potential Japanese investors and companies. The Embassy has also been providing them with relevant information, in collaboration with the Development Agency of Serbia, the Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Serbia, the Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO) etc. We hope that more and more Japanese companies will increase their interest in investing in Serbia.

Citizens of Inđija and Vojvodina are concerned about the possibility of uncontrolled environmental pollution once Toyo starts producing tyres. Given that Japan is considered a country with high environmental awareness, which standards will this Japanese company adhere to in Inđija?

– At the ground-breaking ceremony in December 2020, which the esteemed President Vučić also attended, Toyo Tires President Mr Shimizu mentioned in his speech that the company would like to make a contribution to promoting both the environment and the economy of Serbia.

As I mentioned earlier, the investment of Toyo Tires will bring new an automated factory with state-of-the-art technology that also encompasses various environmental standards.

I understand that the underlying idea of Mr Shimizu regarding Toyo Tires’ business approach is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals, which are set to be achieved by 2030.

I expect Toyo Tires will not only put current Serbian and EU standards into practise in Serbia, but that it will also show a high level of commitment to the environment with an eye to the year 2030.

I would like to do my utmost to make the 140th anniversary of the Japan-Serbia Friendship in 2022 a wonderful opportunity to confirm and further promote our bilateral friendship, which was established through an exchange of letters between the Meiji Emperor of Japan and Serbia’s King Obrenović in 1882

It was announced at the end of 2020 that a new, major Japanese investment could arrive in Novi Sad, with the Nidec Corporation considering the creation of a factory for the production of electric vehicle motors. Do you know if this Japanese company has made its decision?

– I am aware that NIDEC, a world leading motor producing company, is making preparations for its project in Serbia, but I’m not in a position to prejudge the business decision.

In general, FDI from Japan to Serbia has been increasing sharply in recent years and the number of inquiries about doing business in Serbia that we receive form Japanese companies is also increasing. I feel like the interest of Japanese companies is growing steadily. The Embassy of Japan will continue to support Japanese and Serbian companies in pursuing their business opportunities in both countries, and I strongly hope that Japan and Serbia can strengthen our economic relationship even during the difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

MATSUMOTO CASTLE

Upon submitting your letters of accreditation, you were asked to convey an invitation for Emperor Naruhito to visit Serbia. It was mentioned at the time that the commemorating of 140 years of diplomatic relations could provide a good reason for such a visit at the highest level. Is there any interest in organising such a visit?

– We are grateful for the cordial invitation of the esteemed President to His Majesty the Emperor of Japan. The Emperor of Japan wishes to further promote friendly ties and goodwill relations between Japan and the Republic Serbia. I would like to do my utmost to make the 140th anniversary of the Japan-Serbia Friendship in 2022 a wonderful opportunity to confirm and further promote our bilateral friendship, which was established through an exchange of letters between the Meiji Emperor of Japan and Serbia’s King Obrenović in 1882.

The Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, should be held during 2021. What are the biggest challenges for Japan as the host country of the games, apart from the fact that the delay will increase the costs of organising the games by approximately three billion U.S. dollars?

– The biggest challenges in hosting next summer’s Games would be, of course, countermeasures against COVID-19. Following the decision to postpone the Games, Tokyo 2020 took swift action to deal with the unprecedented situation. The government has now established a framework governing athletes’ movements and activities, including their entry to Japan and movements during the actual Games, as well as for spectators and all other people involved.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a first for humankind, and its effects are still ongoing. We know that it is challenging to host the Olympic Games under such circumstances, but this is precisely why we intend for these Games to prove that humanity has defeated the virus, as our Prime Minister says. Taking all possible measures to prevent infections, we will continue to work hard to prepare for a safe and secure Games. I wish for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games to bring hope and encouragement to people all around the world.

BUSINESS CLIMATE

Serbia can offer foreign investors easy access to a workforce with competitive costs or quality labour with high levels of education

INVESTMENT 

The investment of Toyo Tires is expected to be the largest one ever from Japan in Serbia, at 382 million euros, and will create more than 500 jobs

TOKYO OLYMPICS

Taking all possible measures to prevent infections, we will continue to work hard to prepare for a safe and secure Games

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