Although Japan and Serbia are geographically distant, the two countries have been building strong bonds for many years. Here Yoshifumi Kanno, First Secretary at the Embassy of Japan to Serbia, speaks about his impressions of Serbia and the possibilities for the two countries to deepen their relations.
Considering your two-year presence in Serbia, what would you say are the strongest bonds between Japan and Serbia?
Upon my arrival in Serbia, I was pleasantly surprised with the respect for, and understanding of, Japanese culture in Serbia. People here are very well acquainted with Japan’s cuisine, history and tradition. I believe the geographic distance between our two countries creates a certain curiosity, which pushes people towards exploring Japan or Serbia.
On the other hand, the former Yugoslavia was well known and respected among Japanese politicians and people. Many Japanese people still see this region as unique and recognise the newly formed countries as one, like Yugoslavia. Considering that things have changed in the past 25 years, the Japanese people have slowly started researching about Serbia and are getting better and better acquainted with your country.
JTI and Panasonic contribute to the improvement of knowhow, the transfer of new technologies, the education level of Serbian engineers and the development of their local communities
So, my opinion is that in both cases it’s the people who create such strong bonds between our countries. Citizens and their interest in learning new things about Japan or Serbia give us the chance to promote our cultures with each other, to promote our countries and strengthen our bonds.
Let me remind you that in 2011 the citizens of Serbia gave strong support to Japan in its recovery following the major earthquake and tsunami that caused severe damage to parts of our country. The people of Japan did not forget this and last year, after disastrous floods hit Serbia, Japan reacted promptly to help your country and citizens recover.
How would you assess the progress Serbia has made in its integration towards the EU? How important is this for Japan?
Several weeks ago the European Commission presented its annual Progress Report, assessing the integration process of country-candidates for EU membership. In the case of Serbia, the report praised the firm orientation of your country towards EU accession, especially focusing on economic and political reforms implemented by the Serbian government in the past year.
My view is that in the past year the Serbian government, primarily in the economic sector, has shown the intention of implementing structural reforms in order to create a stable economic environment and improve the living standards of Serbian citizens.
The reform implementation process is in line with Serbia’s 15-year policy of creating a democratic country, with a market economy, respect for freedoms and rights, which should ultimately result in your country’s membership in the European Union.
However, I strongly believe that the accession date itself should not be the ultimate goal of Serbia, but rather the path to the European Union membership which you should use as an opportunity to realise the project of creating a country that shares the value of those countries which already are part of the EU.
As the European Union is one of Japan’s most important partners, in both political and economic terms, there is no doubt that Serbia’s EU accession progress is of significant interest to us
As the European Union is one of the most important partners of Japan, in both political and economic terms, there is no doubt that Serbia’s EU accession progress is of significant interest to us.
To give you an example, the EU and Japan are currently negotiating a new Free Trade Agreement that aims to improve our mutual trade and investments. Once it enters the EU, Serbia will be obliged to respect all the policies and agreements of the Union, including the trade agreement with Japan.
If your economy is fully adjusted with the EU regulations once it enters the Union, Japan and Serbia could realise trade in a much easier manner. This would potentially attract new investors from Japan to Serbia, but would also provide Serbian companies with easier access to the Japanese market.
The Japanese business community in Serbia is growing, including the recent establishment of the Japanese Business Club. How do you think Serbia sees Japanese investors in the country?
In recent years the Japanese business community in Serbia has been on the rise. Although there are only two Japanese investors in Serbia, we do not consider JTI and Panasonic as being “just two”. The importance of these companies in Serbia is best understood by the citizens of the municipalities of Senta and Svilajnac. Not only do these companies employ a significant number of workers in their factories, but they also insist on contributing to the improvement of the social life of these municipalities. They are integral and vital parts of these communities.
In a wider spectrum, the presence of such renowned investors in your country is a good reference for potential new foreign investors, from Japan or another country. They contribute to the improvement of know-how, import new technologies, improve the education level of your engineers, but also cooperate with numerous expert schools in finding and creating the high-level young engineers they greatly need.
The Japanese Business Club was established in summer of 2014. The joint idea of the Embassy of Japan and the Japanese business community in Serbia is to provide visibility to Japanese companies in the country and to ensure their better mutual networking. So far, we had several meetings, including a very important conference in December 2014 that was attended by the Minister of Trade, Telecommunication and Tourism, Mr Rasim Ljajić.
At present, the Club gathers together numerous Japanese investors, representative offices and traders of Japanese products. We hope to create a good image for this Club and eventually advance it to become the Chamber of Commerce by also growing the number of members.
My impression is that employees of Japanese companies in Serbia are satisfied. They tend to work for the companies for a long time and adapt well to new technologies and the business culture brought to them from Japan. I hope that the further increase in the number of Japanese investor in Serbia will confirm my impressions in the best manner.
To end this interview with a reminder that you have been in Serbia for two years now, what do you think Serbian citizens’ impressions of the Japanese community in Serbia are like? Do you feel welcome?
Although two years represent a period sufficient to draw some conclusions about your country and people, my understanding of Serbian citizens’ relations towards foreign people and guests was formed only a few months after my arrival, and it has only been reaffirmed since then.
Serbian citizens’ affinity towards Japan – our culture, tradition, business and other aspects that characterise my country – is something I could not have expected, but now I am fully aware of. Combined with the traditional and well-known hospitality for which you are famous, this results in a friendly and warm living environment and place for work.
What makes me really proud is the fact that more and more students, even in high schools, are provided with the option of learning the Japanese language, which differs enormously from the majority of other languages. However, they are very enthusiastic and excited to learn, thereby contributing to bringing our countries closer together. Maybe they are not aware of that, but it is so.
For all the aforementioned reasons, and thanks to my position and job, I have a great wish to contribute to further improvement of our two countries’ ties, be that in business, culture or even private life.